Feb 20

My Phil Dunphy problem

Here’s one of those posts I shouldn’t publish but can’t help myself publishing.

These days, I keep thinking about Phil Dunphy. Phil is the character played by Ty Burrell in the ABC sitcom “Modern Family,” a congenital optimist who combines a clever mind, an inventive spirit, an infallible faith in his sense of humor and a gleeful zest for life. He is not blind to mistakes or trouble, hardly incapable of misgivings or hurt feelings, but every crisis is but a hurdle to be overcome.

He is, I understand, fictional, but he is very real for me. The me I wish I were.

On Wednesday, my wife and I were watching the beginning of the latest episode of “Modern Family” (seen above) when we got to the bit where Clare mildly scolds Phil about not moving an old chair onto the sidewalk for disposal, and my wife remarked to me that if she had said that to me, I probably would have gotten defensive. I said that was probably true. I’m not Phil Dunphy.

Sure enough, that was borne out Friday morning. As I was making toast for the kids, there was a box from Noah’s Bagels on the counter in front of the toaster. We never get bagels from Noah’s – there isn’t one particularly close to us – and in the 7 a.m. fog of my daily business, I had assumed that my wife had bought these for some sort of school event later that day. But when she came into the kitchen, it occurred to me to ask her what was in the box, and she laughed a little and said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Bagels, for breakfast.”

Believe it or not, I took offense. It wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked. And we had a small, silly spat in which I told her I don’t like being laughed at, and she said she wasn’t really laughing at me but at the situation. Which I believed … sort of … eventually.

I get it.  It should have just been a laugh. But I am not Phil Dunphy. And I know why I’m not.

If you looked back at my life to this point, you would see an ongoing series of events where I have lost faith, faith in myself and faith that life will reward me for who I am. For 20 years, from about age 11 to age 31, that mostly centered on dating. And then, almost as if it were on a pendulum, after I got married and my personal and professional existence were both in nearly perfect alignment, my life tilted the other way, and I have spent the past decade-plus in a near constant state of anxiety about my career, in which so many optimistic signs have turned out to be mirages – unlike Phil Dunphy, a successful real-estate broker who is happily married and has raised three children who are crazy wonderful in their own ways.

The latest came when ESPNLosAngeles.com cut me loose at the end of last month. After I wrote my farewell post, a few readers sent some “good riddance” comments my way. That, actually, didn’t bother me. One of them listed four reasons why he had become dissatisfied with Dodger Thoughts; the first three were based upon false information, but the fourth is worth quoting here:

… Jon has no idea how many people would love to be in the position he is in — writing a blog about a hometown iconic sports team and working at Variety as Features Editor. Rather than seeing the glass more than half full he sees it as more than half empty and continues to question himself rather than bathe in the happiness life has presented him.

This is pretty accurate. Distress and I are well-acquainted, though not because I’m not aware of what’s good in my life. I do like what I do, and I do love my family. However, I am the sole wage-earner in a family of five (at least until my youngest enters Kindergarten 18 months from now and my wife potentially resumes her career), working primarily in a dying industry, and with that, as you either know first-hand or can imagine, comes considerable pressure.

I spent most of last year, for example, worried about the fact that despite my day job at Variety, my freelance salary from ESPNLosAngeles, a third chunk of freelance money from writing two episodes of Cartoon Network’s Young Justice and, on top of all that, what you might call a stimulus package from my parents, I barely made ends meet last year. Heading into 2012, I knew that Young Justice would be finished for me and that the financial help would diminish. Dodger Thoughts and Variety weren’t enough. I knew I somehow needed to take my career to another level.

Not only did I fail in that quest, I found out in mid-December that ESPNLosAngeles would evaporate, meaning that my shortfall in 2012 looked overwhelming. And no, after years of living like this, I have basically run out of savings outside of retirement plans and my kids’ college funds. After all these years, after working my way through salary cuts and the recession, I expected finally to be on the upswing, not reeling from yet another financial punch.

For two months – and I’m not saying this is a long time – I have explored solutions, mainly solutions that involve continuing to get paid for what is my passion, while also being open to the possibility of dropping Dodger Thoughts if something more lucrative materialized. For two months I have done this, and I’m not done. But this past weekend, I fell into a deep, dark discouragement in the face of the nearly complete lack of interest shown by the world in being paid to write about the Dodgers or baseball.

It’s true that there are a few small freelance opportunities still extant, and there’s actually one currently viable option for hosting Dodger Thoughts, so I probably shouldn’t be writing about my lack of current marketability at all right now. But though the interest is sincere, I haven’t been led to believe that the money on the table would solve anything for me. So while I might be shooting myself in the foot by waxing anxious about the dearth of options, I sort of can’t help myself.

I’m aware that I’m better off than many. That doesn’t change my observation that things aren’t good enough.

I look around, and see almost all my friends seemingly exactly where they’re supposed to be with their careers. I have a few, my age or only a bit older, who could retire now if they wanted to.

I see the major bloggers I came up with, so to speak, finding their station. Aaron Gleeman is full-time at NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk. Erstwhile Yankees blogger Cliff Corcoran has become a major cog at SI.com. Jay Jaffe, once upon a time the Futility Infielder, is everywhere. Eric Stephen, who didn’t even start blogging until 2009, is covering the Dodgers’ full-time beginning in Spring Training for True Blue L.A.

I’ve written about baseball for SI.com, the Los Angeles Times and ESPN. And now …

No, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that I already have my own full-time job, and a good one for the industry I’m in. But I am unable to look away from the reality of my overall situation, nor the fear that I have spectacularly mismanaged my career.

As I said, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. The arc I’m experiencing right now is disturbingly similar to one from a decade ago. After a few years of writing film and TV scripts on spec, I started to get paid, then got an agent, then became a regular freelancer for the Disney Channel. But I was unable to make the leap to primetime, and then unable to stay consistently employed at the level I was at, and then unable to keep my agent or land a new one. As fast as my screenwriting career seemed to be building, it all dried up.

I was faced at the time with the choice of persevering in the face of rejection or taking a guaranteed salary back in journalism. In a move that I would describe as panic, and without the kid-induced financial pressure I face today, I chose the guaranteed salary, a decision that I have extraordinary regret over.

I’m not sure what I’m facing today even qualifies as a choice, except to the extent that everything is somehow a choice. The marketplace no longer seems to want to pay for Dodger Thoughts, yet I’m truly not sure I can stop, or that even if I could, whether I should. In my view, quitting screenwriting full-time was a mistake. Quitting Dodger Thoughts would seem to be the same mistake. But what if what I do is never meant to be appreciated by more than a small group? How can I look my family in the eye and with the confidence that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing for them?

That’s why I’m not Phil Dunphy. Phil Dunphy operates from a fundamental position of faith and confidence in the goodness of things. The things I’m confident in are not good. I know that bills will pile up, that life will be filled with challenges, that people will die. Those are inevitable. What I don’t know is whether, or how, I’m going to give my family what they need. Based on the trajectory of what has become a massive sample size of my career, I’m not sure exactly why I should have faith.

There’s another TV show that’s been a touchstone for me this week, though it doesn’t officially premiere until March 1. The show is NBC’s Awake, from Lone Star creator Kyle Killen – who can also speak to highs and lows, given that his last show was canceled after two airings – and it tells the story of a man who, following a traumatic event, lives in two parallel universes, unsure what is real and what is a dream. I’ve seen the first three episodes (no one said my day job doesn’t have its perks), and while “Awake” has its flaws, it is in my opinion the best new broadcast network show of the 2012-13 season, and has the dual effect of being something I wish I had created and resonating with how I’m feeling today.

I’m not sure what world I’m supposed to be living in. I’m not sure what’s real. Is it the world where things will be okay if I just keep at it, or the world where believing I’m special will just take me and my family over the waterfall? I know I’m not supposed to know the answer, but I feel I should at least know what to believe. But I don’t.

Phil Dunphy would tell me not to give up. For that matter, I think Ty Burrell, whose career had its own ups and downs and financial uncertainties before Modern Family, would tell me the same thing. But I am not them.

What do I gain from not believing in myself? I gain the possibility of avoiding that waterfall. (Just the possibility, since I feel like not giving up on myself as a screenwriter still helped send me over the edge.) I feel like I’m already halfway down as it is, my family in the barrel with me. The thought of us dropping any further, sinking any lower, pains me in a way I can’t describe.

The alienated Dodger Thoughts commenter I mentioned earlier also made other points, which, as I said, were wrong. Here is one of them:

Jon used this blog to get “love” from his acolytes talking about his anxieties around parenting issues, spouse issues and issues at being a good son. Rather than invest money in psychotherapy or family therapy this site became a place for Jon to get external validation. He then chose who to thank by name.

This is not true. I’m not looking for “love” for this post. I’m not looking for comfort. I’m not even sure I want comfort if it were offered, because of the two realities I’m caught in between, comfort would feed the one that I fear is false.

(To be clear, I’m also not writing this to solicit a Dodger Thoughts relief fund.)

I’m writing it because I’m in pain, and when I’m in pain, I write. And then, if I finish something, I take the calculated risk that by publishing, the satisfaction I feel in having articulated how I feel – and the immature ego-boost I receive from the idea that some people, however few of them, would care – outweighs the humiliation in showing what a mess I am.

There is a part of me, and not even a small part, that believes that all my problems could be solved tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the next day, and if not the next day, then the next week, or the next month, or if I can hold out long enough, someday. Someday.

It’s the holding out part that confounds me.

And so, while I haven’t forgotten how to laugh, or even how to laugh at myself, when it comes to my self-worth and self-confidence, my sense of humor goes out the window, and I can’t find the Phil Dunphy in me.

Feb 09

It’s time for more softball and Les Nessman

We are only at T-minus 43 hours for the start of the LFP.com Dodger Bloggers Softball Tournament, featuring 14 teams and close to 200 players representing Dodger websites hither and yon.

Like the other squads, the Dodger Thoughts team will be playing at least three games, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at Big League Dreams in West Covina. The tournament itself starts at 8 a.m.

As the de facto manager, a role I intend to embrace with all the intermingled enthusiasm and sleepiness of a 1990s Tommy Lasorda, I am here to tell you that I am in little to no condition to play three softball games in one day, let alone more if our ragtag bunch propels us into the playoffs Saturday afternoon. Though there was a time I played every week, I don’t believe I have swung a bat in the two years since the last time I played in a game, a game that left me sore in one particular place for about a month afterward. On the bright side, in November I started jogging again, and have regularly been running four miles a … well, week. So by the time Saturday’s games are over, I might not be fit to drive home, or even walk from the driveway through the front door. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to a good time out in those fields of dreams.

Every now and then, I dip into the prodigious comments of True Blue L.A., where you can find ongoing parsing of the nuances of Saturday’s events and a passion normally reserved only for hallowed occasions like Festivus. It is for that reason that I have labeled theirs as the WPIG squad and ours as the WKRP team, recalling the classic softball game of WKRP in Cincinnati (see video up top). Don’t be surprised to see me, like Dr. Johnny Fever, playing left-center in the comfort of a lawn chair. But at the same time, don’t be surprised if Dodger Thoughts players like David Guerreva, David Higgins, James Higgins, Anthony Mason, Brian Rafeedy, Eric Velazquez, Mary Whitfield, Matt Worland and the Dodger Thoughts commenter known as Xeifrank are poised to shock the world. I’ll tell you this, True Blue L.A.: You don’t want to see us in the finals, unless you’re there to apply sunscreen to our winning faces.

If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by — should be a fun, fun day.

Feb 03

‘Diner’ turns 30


This one was a real labor of love for me — my Variety story on Diner looking back at the movie on its 30th anniversary and looking ahead to its reincarnation on Broadway this fall.

This film is one of my early inspirations: so funny and so poignant. Here’s how the story begins …

“Diner,” written and directed by Barry Levinson, is a wonderful movie.

That simple sentence began a lengthy, thoughtful review by Pauline Kael in the April 5, 1982, New Yorker, a review that saved a cinematic gem from quick extinction — and, as it turned out, helped pave the way for a Broadway musical decades later.

This spring will mark the 30th anniversary of “Diner,” Levinson’s inaugural effort as a helmer, which simultaneously celebrated and deconstructed the late-1950s Baltimore of his youth. Come the fall, Levinson’s “Diner” tuner adaptation, with music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow, and with Kathleen Marshall directing, will bow on the Rialto.

Set design has begun, with final casting to take place in the spring in advance of what will be an out-of-town test run in the summer.

The rebirth of “Diner” has stirred excitement about the musical (mixed with guarded curiosity) from those who remember the film for both its comedy, centered on the exploits of six Baltimore buddies, and its insightful commentary on communication bumps and bruises between the sexes.

In an age of four-quadrant blockbuster mindsets, the blossoming of what was such a personal project into a franchise is noteworthy. Though movies of such intimate scale often disappear, a few can pay off for decades.

Still, if the legit adaptation has any naysayers, that would only make sense. Ultimately nominated for an original screenplay Oscar, a Writers Guild award and a Golden Globe, “Diner” would have been relegated to an MGM dustbin if not for the power of Kael’s pen, say Levinson and his colleagues.

I watched this movie on a regular basis in my teens and 20s, but when I checked it out again last month in preparation for this story, it was heartening to how fresh and vibrant it was. It holds up remarkably well, something I would attribute to Levinson’s absolute precision with the material and the great work by the cast, which made a moment in time so timeless.

In a sense, this was Seinfeld before Seinfeld: light on plot but heavy on conversation and just trying to make it through the simple and the ridiculous parts of life. But it has a yearning that Seinfeld dropped pretty much by its second season. These guys (and Beth) want something better for themselves, but they don’t really know how to get it — in fact, most of them can’t even admit they want it.

Seinfeld would have the equivalent of the football quiz, the Carol Heathrow bet at the movie theater, “Are you gonna eat that?” But it wouldn’t have had Shrieve’s at once hilarious and harrowing verbal beatdown of Beth over his records. It didn’t, and wouldn’t, have had the ending that Diner had.

Not that I intended this to be a Diner vs. Seinfeld discussion. Both are classics.  But while I loved Seinfeld, writing my own Diner would be my dream. There’s hardly a moment in the film that isn’t kinda quietly brilliant.

They made it look so easy, Levinson and his gang. They’re just stories, right? Just people talking. And yet it’s so rich. Most of the stuff I’ve ever written on my own has aspired to be like some combination of “Diner” and a few other movies like “The Misfits” mixed in. Someday …

So, I hope you enjoy the story. For me, it’s a smile.

Feb 01

Blogging in the cornfield


It’s been a fun two days. Seeing commenters old and new reunite, brimming with dormant enthusiasm, has made Dodger Thoughts a kind of giddy place since the move from ESPNLosAngeles.com.

I’ve been told more times than I can count in the past 48 hours that I seem happier and looser here at the new site. If that’s true, that’s mainly a reaction to the enthusiasm I’ve seen in readers.

“I can’t explain it, but this just feels better somehow,” wrote Eric Enders, longtime friend of Dodger Thoughts. “It’s like the ESPN LA site was some depressing domed stadium, and this new site is clean and bright and open-air – I guess that makes it Dodger Stadium.”

To which I replied, “I totally get that, and feel it to boot. I’m just saying, the domed stadium doesn’t have to be depressing.”

It really is worthy of a case study the effect that a site’s appearance can have on its community. The commenting system here isn’t madly superior to the one at ESPNLosAngeles.com. In one respect, it’s inferior, in that you have to refresh the page each time you want to see new comments. That’s labor-intensive. Yet few seem to mind. People don’t complain as much about the plumbing when the view is nice.

So yes, all things being equal, I would play in this open-air ballpark ’til the end of time, with readers emerging one after another from the cornfield for a little catch.

But I don’t want to mislead anyone. I’m still exploring paid possibilities for what I do. My time here is now down to nine days or 9,999. If it’s a choice between providing for the Dodger Thoughts community or providing for my family, then I have an obligation.

In the end, I might not get that choice, but if there’s a move I need to make, then like Moonlight Graham, I will have to trade my uniform for my medical bag.

That being said, I have also had conversations about what it might take to generate income while staying independent. If that became a viable option, that would be wonderful.

You can’t fight City Hall, and you can’t tell a readership to be content when it’s not. Certain environments come with certain challenges. I do accept that if Dodger Thoughts moved again, the motivation that has been reborn in this community would probably move away as well (making this particular moment in time something like the brief respite for Robert De Niro in “Awakenings.”). I understand the consequences. My free agency has had the unique quality of being a kind of punishment and rebirth all at once.

All I can say is that whatever happens, the biggest factor determining the nature of a community is not the infrastructure, but the people. If people are committed to making things better, things will be better. It’s not all up to me. Whatever anyone wants this community to be, an inferior site location is a hurdle, not a barrier.

Anyway, I’m here now, and it’s a pleasure.

Jan 30

Welcome to the new home of Dodger Thoughts

Three years ago, full of piss and vinegar, I took Dodger Thoughts from its idyllic home at Baseball Toaster to the Los Angeles Times. I wrote a farewell to the Toaster that evoked my excitement of moving to a bigger stage, on which I had long dreamed of performing. While I wondered what I was leaving behind, I was filled with confidence.

The journey that followed was better for me professionally than for Dodger Thoughts itself. While I was taken more seriously than ever for my work on the Dodgers, and (in a welcome relief) compensated for it, the site itself suffered. The commenting community, which I valued immeasurably, broke apart. Readers remained, but despite joining a mainstream site with wide reach, the page views for Dodger Thoughts did not rise. Commenters, by and large, had other places to go.

For several months in 2009, I was hoping that improvements could be made at the Times that would bring that community back, but they were neither sufficiently fast nor user-friendly. I value those who have stuck around and who have come anew, but essentially, that Toaster wonderland was gone.

By the time I moved two years ago to ESPN Los Angeles, I was left to focus on doing the best work I could, hoping to at least retain readers if not commenters. As far as my professional life, I dreamed big again.

Well, now I’m back on my own. For now, anyway. The reasons, I think I can say without being indecorous, relate to shifting priorities over there in the big city. So what are you gonna do?

Start over. Reboot. So here we are. I could be here for 10 days or 10,000. Still figuring that out. Still figuring a lot of things out. There’s still so much I dream of accomplishing, but my path is still around a bend or two. I’m eager to see what happens.

So, if you’ve made it this far, here to home No. 6 (four more to catch Tommy Davis), thanks for stopping by. I’ll do my best to provide informative, meaningful and fun posts as much as or more than ever before.  Hope you hang out a while.

Note: The commenting system should be up and running Tuesday morning.

Jan 25

Remembering Christina-Taylor Green

APChristina-Taylor Green

On the morning of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ emotional resignation from the House, I checked in on the website in memory of Christina-Taylor Green, Dodger scout John Green’s 9-year-old daughter who died in the mass shooting that severely wounded Giffords.

Here’s what the memorial foundation has been up to:

At the time The Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation (C-TGMF) was being formed, The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA) held funds in Christina-Taylor’s name. CFSA provided a way to capture the outpouring of love that we felt from our community, many other parts of the nation, and the world.

As CFSA handled the financial oversight of the donations, they provided time for the new foundation to define its mission and initial goals. Before the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation’s 501c3 status was finalized, CFSA funded several projects, including upgrading the technology at Mesa Verde Elementary and Cross Middle schools with SMART Boards, Physical Education equipment, computers and arts programs.

In conjunction with The Allstate Foundation, The Christina-Taylor Green Little Hands Playground was built at Mesa Verde Elementary School, an outdoor space open to students and to neighborhood residents.

Several other contributors participated in the completion of the playground. Community volunteers provided help with construction. Donations were provided by The Little Tikes Corporation, The Sundt Foundation and The JohnJay and Rich Care For Kids Foundation. The Injury Free Coalition for Kids at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health also partnered on building the project by, among other things, getting design ideas for the nearly 2,000-square-foot play area from Christina-Taylor’s classmates. For details about the playground and its dedication, read more at AZStarnet.

Before school started in August, our foundation partnered with Tierra Antigua Real Estate to collect school supplies and backpacks. Hollaway Elementary and Drexel Elementary schools were the recipients of these items.

“Stuff the Hummers”, our last project of 2011, was a huge success. C-TGMF partnered with Team up for Tucson to benefit The Salvation Army in their annual toy collection for Tucson area children in need. Not only did we surpass all goals for toys donated,  we also collected 125 bikes, setting a new record of 10,000 toys/bikes.  Our foundation and its volunteers look forward to a long term partnership with Team up for Tucson in hopes of breaking records every year so we can continue to help our local Salvation Army provide toys for needy children in the Tucson Area.

The C-TGMF will be issuing a call for Grant Proposals in the spring of 2012, and we hope to fund multiple small projects. The goal is to give out approximately $50,000 in grant money for projects that will help carry out the mission of the foundation:

The mission of the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation is to honor the life and memory of Christina-Taylor through charitable and educational projects that reflect and embody her interests, values and dreams.

Earlier this month, on the anniversary of the shooting, Karina Bland of the Arizona Republic wrote movingly about Christina’s survivors, including mother Roxanna and friend Suzi Hileman, who had taken Christina to meet Giffords.

… “Suzi is a dear friend and neighbor,” Green says. “I want Suzi to heal. I don’t want to bring any more sadness to her.”

Each woman has a strong network of friends, but they circle back to one another. A glass of wine. Coffee. Lunch. They live blocks apart.

At times when Green wants to cry, or shout, or rant without someone hushing her, or trying to fix what is upsetting her, she turns to Hileman: “If I need to whine, I go to her house.” Hileman does the same.

There is no comforting them: Christina-Taylor is dead, and nothing anyone can do can change that.

“We both get it because we both went through it,” Green says.

A year later, Green still cries most days. Time hasn’t changed that. …

Here are some pictures of Christina.

Dec 28

A special thanks

As this year nears a close, I want to offer a particular salute and thank you to one person.

This was no less a rewarding a year of parenting for my wife and I than any other, but it did happen to be our most intimidating. Everything’s relative – we are thankful for the health and happiness in our home and only hope it continues. But you could say we dealt with some unexpected developments.

To those challenges, my wife responded like a field general. A field general who didn’t hide her fears, but a field general nonetheless. Despite how overwhelmed she felt at times, she did not slink from what needed to be done, doing all the research, finding all the right people to help, making it all happen, and all the while juggling the mundane duties that in the grand scheme of things would have been easy to let slide. At times we felt we were going off a cliff, but she not only kept us from falling, you could now say as we reach year’s end that we actually have seen signs of soaring.

My contribution on these matters was mainly to be the one who usually got up in the middle of the night whenever our 3-year-old needed a little love or lavatory. The real mountain-moving was left to my wife. When I think back on the year, I’m kind of amazed by what she accomplished.

So to whatever extent you have enjoyed Dodger Thoughts this year, join me in sending a bit o’ thanks to my better half, who shouldered so much of our household burdens and made my work life that much easier. You don’t see her influence, but she makes a huge difference.

Dec 19

Lullaby


The quietest period in Dodger Thoughts history was after the birth of my daughter in September 2002. I had only started the site three months earlier, had fewer than 10 readers daily and was experiencing a life change like no other. I didn’t post for the remainder of the year.

I can’t remember what it was like. That is, I can remember my infant daughter, but I can’t remember what I thought about the absence of blogging. I can’t remember if I intended to restart, or if my mind had just gone blank. I can’t remember if I even thought about it during those black-of-night winter moments with my girl.

I remember those bleary nights now so fondly. I was so tired, a tired I haven’t shed in the years since, but I’m not sure my mind has been so clear, so uncorrupted, as it was during those three months.

She was a good baby, too. She kept us up, but she was a good baby. There were times as a baby she would wake up in the morning at 7 and just sing to herself in her crib. A lullaby for her sleepy parents.

In early January the next year, shortly after my girl had slept through the night for the first time on a holiday vacation to Carmel, I remember sitting in my cubicle at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and thinking that I might be ready to start Dodger Thoughts again. And I did. And I haven’t stopped since, for nine years and two more kids. Not for nine years has there been a day that I haven’t thought about this site. I can’t say that about anything else except my wife and children.

Dec 01

Occupy Weisman

Having finished work on a long-running freelance project, 1 percent of me knows I need to start another for the sake of my career in a precarious world.

The other 99 percent believes that the less additional time I spend at the computer, the better.

The two parties are at war with each other.

Nov 07

Magic

I was disbelieving and disheartened, just like everyone else.

I was in the newsroom at the Los Angeles Daily News when the word about Magic Johnson came pouring through like lava 20 years ago. As the paper’s sports media columnist at the time, I was sent home to listen to the radio coverage on various stations of his announcement and the aftermath, and can testify to the shock and sadness (not to mention the popping undercurrent of recriminations) directed his way.

As shocking as it was that he would be retiring, the thing we couldn’t get past was that inexorably, we’d soon be getting news of his passing. We wanted to think that wasn’t possible, but we had no right to. Johnson would be our Lou Gehrig.

Magic’s survival and thrival all these years could be called the ultimate “you never know.” So many tragedies in this life … it is worth celebrating when one of them takes a U-turn into a happier ending.

Sep 27

Season’s partings

The offseason was calling, and I needed to answer.

It was Back to School Night tonight at my eldest kids’ elementary school, so I missed the first part of tonight’s Dodger game. Then, when we got home, the place was a mess, the two big kids were hopped up on Wii, our youngest had a stomachache. And this was all before we found out he stuck a tiny bead up his nose.

Before I became a parent, I used to hate to see the baseball season end. I recall watching the Marlins-Indians World Series back in ’97 (I’m not looking the details up, but I think I’ve got ‘em right) in my bachelor apartment – Game 7, extra innings, a thrilling, exhausting night, long after the Dodgers had bid farewell to the year – and being in disbelief that there wasn’t more coming the next day, let alone the next year.

Now, the offseason comes as a relief. An exhale. It’s not that I have stopped enjoying the game, but it really takes the pressure off when the Dodgers pack it up. (It’s not that I don’t watch any postseason games, but I can watch as much or as little as I want, completely passively.) I’m pulled in so many different directions that it’s nice to have one of them release me.

Especially now. My kids haven’t been at their best lately. When you’re already questioning your parenting as much as I was today, you don’t feel good about parking yourself in front of the TV and the computer before their bedtime.

So don’t tell my bosses, but even though I knew I had plans Wednesday evening that would prevent me from seeing the Dodgers’ final game of the season, I didn’t turn tonight’s game on. Not until the last kid was asleep, not until my wife and I scarfed down a 9:15 p.m. meal of McDonald’s while watching “New Girl,” not until I had spent another halfhour talking to my wife about how out of control things seemed.

The game should have been over by the time I had lumbered upstairs, where I planned to put the finishing touches on a post I have planned for Thursday, the first day of Dodger winter, but according to MLB Gameday on my cellphone, it was the 10th inning. And even then, I wasn’t going to turn the game on – the only reason I did was that I realized after a few moments that this would be my last chance to hear Vin Scully for the rest of the year.

The first play I saw was a baseball that hit, in rapid succession, the swinging bat of A.J. Ellis, the right-field wall at Arizona’s Chase Field and the face of Diamondbacks rightfielder Justin Upton.

Upton slumped as the ball ricocheted away from him. He had suffered a concussion, I believe, thanks to a Tim Lincecum pitch Sunday, and what I gathered is that it was all he could do not to curl up into the fetal position. But Ellis was running, and the ball was rolling, and Upton realized after a palpable few seconds that the play hadn’t stopped. He had to get up and keep going.

Ellis made it to third base with a triple (a career first, I’d predict, or maybe his second – but again, I’m not looking it up), driving in two runs to give the Dodgers a 6-1 lead in the 10th inning. Upton was walked off the field to the Arizona clubhouse, where he’ll essentially remain, I suspect, until the National League Division Series begins.

I stuck with Vin for the remainder of the game, which went not completely unlike the 4+1 game from five years ago. Javy Guerra, who had been warming up before Ellis’ triple, sat down. Blake Hawksworth, in the role of Jon Adkins, entered in Guerra/Trevor Hoffman’s place, but got in trouble – starting with two out and the bases empty – when he was late covering first base on a grounder to James Loney. Guerra ended up coming into the game anyway, like Hoffman did, and it ended with a game-winning grand slam by Ryan Roberts.

Los Angeles had scored five runs in the 10th inning and lost. And also, this: Matt Kemp had entered the game with a three-homer lead on Prince Fielder for 2011, and had been tied.

The Dodgers have played too well of late and Kemp has played too well all season for me to have any ill feelings about tonight’s result. It’s just one of those things, and honestly, the timing could have been a lot worse. And also, I’ve just had too many other worries. It’s still strange for me to say, but I feel the Dodgers have given me more pleasure than I had a right to expect this summer. With Kemp and Kershaw in particular, it’s been a season with heights that I’m not sure I’ll experience again for a long time.

I need to get my parenting legs back, though, and I’m hopeful the changing of the seasons will help.

Sep 11

A day in the life

This morning, I’m taking my youngest son to his first organized sports activity: soccer for 3-year-olds. Later, we’re stopping by a friend’s house, and then I’m taking my older son to a miniature golf birthday party, and somewhere in there hitting the back-to-school picnic at my kids’ elementary school if we can squeeze it in.

It’s a day full of plans, something that’s taken me aback a bit. Before all this happened, we had planned a family event for this weekend, and when my wife suggested this particular date, I said, “No way.” No one’s going to want to go to anything on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

So we moved our thing to September 10, which was lucky only because it turned out seemingly everyone had something they wanted to do on September 11, and I’m not talking about sitting around and watching anniversary specials. Lives are being lived, not irreverently, necessarily, but without reverence as a priority.

And I’m glad. I know why I pictured spending the day laying low, watching coverage of the anniversary when I wasn’t wrangling three kids who weren’t alive when the tragedy happened, but that picture didn’t make sense on a couple of levels. There would have been value to it, but there will be more value to what we do instead: trying to make more memories.

Anniversaries serve a purpose. Certainly 9/11 does. I don’t constantly stop and think about that day, but I do need to from time to time. To understand why, you can read this piece I wrote for Dodger Thoughts in mid-2006.

… Sometimes the hole closes up. Sometimes, I learned this week, you need to reopen it. …

I’m glad we don’t feel trapped by that anniversary. I just don’t want to forget what happened, for the sake of those directly affected.