Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It Looks Good, But It's Still Preseason Football

In case the National Football League or your biggest sports fan friend has not told you, football season is right around the corner.

Yes, the players have put on the helmets and shoulder pads, fantasy football emails are being sent out and football fans are getting giddy as the weather begins to cool down. Football season is right on the horizon. The happiest night of the year for football fans will likely be Sept. 9, when the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints play against the Minnesota Vikings. For those of you unfamiliar, those two teams played in the NFC Championship Game last season. The Saints won and went on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts to secure New Orleans’ first football championship.

For now, though, we’re stuck with the preseason and games I could care less about. No disrespect to all the low-round draft picks and undrafted free agents trying to avoid the inevitable cuts that come with the preseason, but I just can’t get too excited about preseason football. Most of the teams’ starters or key players are finished by the end of the first quarter and most preseason games are glorified scrimmages filled with guys whose names most fans don’t know – and probably won’t know come September. I barely watch preseason football on television and have only attended one preseason game at an NFL stadium. Seven years ago, I attended a Washington Redskins game against the New England Patriots and I didn’t pay for the ticket. I went with a friend who is a big Redskins fan and even she hated the idea of having to buy preseason tickets as part of her Redskins season ticket plan.

A lot of people feel the same way about preseason games. Yet on Monday, August 16, so many people I know were getting hyped and talking trash as the New York Jets and New York Giants played their first preseason game of 2010. The event was special given that it was the first football game at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (currently shared equally by the Jets and Giants) and it was the first time New York area football fans could see the local teams in semi-real game action. Of course, there’s also this supposed animosity between the teams now as the Jets are sending a message that they’re trying to win a Super Bowl for the first time in 41 years after a surprising run to the AFC Championship Game. On the other hand, the older, more successful Giants franchise has received much less attention and hype as they try to rebound from a disappointing 2009 season.

The game had some edge to it. The Jets offense played well minus an interception by quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets defense was solid even without holdout cornerback Darrelle Revis and new addition LaDanian Tomlinson looked fit for the most part. For the Giants, the offensive line needs a little work, but it looks like running back Ahmad Bradshaw will emerge as a big player for Big Blue. As with many preseason games, one rookie trying to impress showed out. That was Victor Cruz, a wide receiver who scored three touchdowns against the Jets backup defense, giving Giants fans a new wideout to keep an eye on before the regular season starts. Congrats to the kid for impressing and likely making the team. Oh and the Giants “won” the game 31-16.

The way some folks have talked during and since the game, though, you’d think this was the biggest football game of the season. Some Giants fan tried to stop Jets superfan Fireman Ed from doing his “J-E-T-S” chant. The Jets, for some silly reason, held their Ring of Honor ceremony at halftime. And to top it all off, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs declared after the “game” that they had just beat the Jets and that the new stadium is still “our” stadium. (Though I’m sure Jets owner Woody Johnson will gladly show you receipts from the costs he paid to build the New Meadowlands to suggest otherwise.) Even fans got into it over the Internet, through Facebook, Twitter and sports message boards. To hear some people say it, this was the beginning of the end for the Jets and that Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan was finally beginning to pay for talking too much about “leading the league in wins.” It was apparently also the beginning of a Giants’ resurgence and them re-establishing themselves as New York’s top football team.

Really? All this from one game? And the first preseason game at that?

I understand if you love football, but anyone pinning their hopes to one preseason football game needs to have their head examined. Yes, it was fun to see fans talking a little smack and getting excited whenever a play went the way of Big Blue or Gang Green. But most football fans with common sense know that this game was hardly a sign of things to come for either team. Both teams still have things to work on. Both teams can be happy with certain aspects of Monday night. And if you’re like me, you’ll probably forget about Monday’s game once you’re two days clear of it – unless you DVR’ed it and want to cling to the memories. (That’s all on you, though.)

No matter how “big” the local media or ESPN make it, preseason football is still preseason football. To drive home this point, let me leave you with this: The 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in their preseason campaign. They went on to win ZERO regular season games.

With that said, I look forward to the regular season and the Jets showing the Baltimore Ravens a thing or two on Monday, Sept. 13.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The World Cup: Just Enjoy The Game As It Is

The World Cup is upon us again.

Having started last week, teams representing 32 nations are running, kicking, heading and sliding on fields throughout South Africa in pursuit of THE most popular trophy. The event is such a big deal that the beautiful game the world calls football has at least some attention here in the United States, where we still refer to it as soccer. (You see, we love OUR football. The one with the yard lines where more than just two players can put their hands on the ball.)

Every four years when the World Cup rolls around, we Americans invariably start caring about soccer. We familiarize ourselves with some of the game’s biggest stars, guys like England’s Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Didier Drogba from the Ivory Coast, Fernando Torres of Spain and Argentina’s Lionel Messi. We ask ourselves if we could play for 90 minutes, mostly non-stop except for a halftime break. Of course, many of us will also ask “how’s the American team looking? Can we win it?” Most experts will say “no,” but Team USA is very capable of making it out of the group stage, which is the round-robin portion of the tournament. All Team USA must do to reach the knockout phase of the World Cup is finish in one of the top two spots in Group C, also home to England, Slovenia and Algeria. The Stars and Stripes managed a 1-1 tie with England on June 12, a good result given that many football experts in Britain and throughout Europe expected England to trounce our boys. (Thanks again for those bad hands, Rob Green.)

This entry is not about Team USA and its slim Cup chances. Rather, it’s about our constant desire to change things we have little to no interest in – except when we’re exposed to it for such a long time. While the games go on and we’re swept up in World Cup fever, you or one of your friends has asked -or will ask - why don’t the good folks who oversee soccer (that would be FIFA) change the rules so the game is “more exciting” or “more interesting” for fans. So far this month, I’ve read or heard people suggest rule changes to boost scoring, from allowing players other than goalkeepers to touch the ball to shortening the fields to allow for more transition. All in the name of making the game more aesthetically pleasing – to us, the fair weather soccer fans.
This always drives me nuts. Changing a game’s rules just to suit our fickle sports tastes is ridiculous, especially when we haven’t heard any outcries from countries that care about the game more than us about it being “dull” or “boring.”
Then again, I’ve heard the lack of scoring complaints about hockey for years. Friends of mine who are don’t follow hockey like I do have suggested widening the nets, making goalie pads smaller and allowing more players on the ice. That, they say, will make the game more “exciting” and they’ll be more inclined to watch. Which is a damn lie. They know it and I know it. Sorry, but if I wanted to watch the National Hockey League All-Star Game, I’ll wait until mid-winter. Besides, the NHL already changed its rules after the 2004-05 lockout to increase scoring. Thankfully, the game still has a lot of what made it great before the lockout, even though scoring is up slightly.

Let’s be honest. Most Americans – die-hard sports fans or just casual observers – are not going to watch much soccer once a new world champion is crowned next month. You might check out an exhibition game by one of the big European clubs on tour in the USA. (England’s Manchester United will be among the big clubs visiting our country later this summer.) You may even pay a little more attention to your local Major League Soccer team (Go Red Bulls!) if you’re handling the remote and you run into a game on ABC or ESPN. Most of us, however, will go back to watching baseball or waiting for the return of college football and then the National Football League. That’s what we do.
Given that, we should quit asking soccer (err, football) to change just to get our attention, especially since we won’t be long-term viewers in the first place.
In the meantime, enjoy the games as they are. Go USA!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Stanley Cup Playoffs - A Reason To Love April

April is my favorite sports month of the year. This evening begins one of the primary reasons for this month’s greatness. Yes, it’s time for the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As an avowed puckhead, I eagerly await this time of year. For the next two months, 16 teams will take to the ice in four rounds of playoffs, hoping to bring home the coolest trophy in sport: the Stanley Cup. Even if you’re not a big hockey fan – and many of my best friends are not, sadly – I bet that once you give it a chance that you will find yourself watching intently to see who scores that game-winning goal. Back when I was in college, I can recall many a night when my non-hockey fan friends and I stayed up to watch Cup playoff games that went deep into overtime. We all were glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting that one shot that got past the goalie to give a team a momentum-changing win or would clinch a series, allowing a team to march on to the next round. Give it a chance, folks. Trust me. It’s probably the most passionate, intense and exciting playoffs of any in the four major North American sports leagues. Not saying the NBA Playoffs, which begin next week, aren’t intense or worth watching. I just find the NHL Playoffs more exciting and a better show.

Alas, this year’s NHL tournament does not feature my favorite team, the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts were eliminated from playoff contention on the very last day of the regular season with a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. The result also lifted the Flyers, a long-time rival of the Rangers, into the chase for Lord Stanley’s silver chalice. Missing the playoffs by a single point in the standings. That is just painful. So instead of seeing my favorite goalie Henrik Lundqvist trying to carry his teammates far into the playoffs, I’m resigned to just watch the action as simply a hockey fan. It stinks, but it’s not so bad. The Rangers, honestly, have a lot to work on and probably wouldn't have lasted long as an 8-seed in the Eastern Conference.

This year’s playoffs should be very interesting. The top teams in both conferences look great, but the teams that didn’t win their divisions will be formidable. The Washington Capitals, led by superstar Alexander Ovechkin, won the Presidents Trophy for the league’s best regular season record. They figure to be on a mission after losing in the second round of last year’s playoffs. The team that ousted them, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are back as well, seeking to win the Stanley Cup for a second year. While superstar Sidney Crosby, a legend in his native Canada before his 23rd birthday, is hungry for another championship, he will be tested with a cast that’s probably not as good as the one he played with last year. The Detroit Red Wings, America’s most successful NHL franchise, has rebounded from its pre-Olympic woes and looks ready to do damage in the Western Conference. Their rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, are enjoying great success on the ice with young stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They’re also continuing Chicago’s hockey renaissance. After years of being awful, the Blackhawks, an Original Six team, are good again and worthy of the Second City’s love and affection. They’re also odds-on favorites to take home the Cup, according to many hockey experts. (Including ESPN’s Barry Melrose.)

Speaking of the Cup, I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing it up close during a visit to Toronto three years ago. It looks just as beautiful in person as it does on television. Ask my brother just how giddy I became upon sight of the Cup, which is housed in the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto. Talk about a kid in a candy store. Even my brother, who is not a big sports fan, appreciated the greatness of the Cup.

So many things make the Stanley Cup so cool. For one, there’s only one Cup. Other sports leagues give out a different trophy at the end of their playoffs. Not the NHL. There is just one silver chalice and the championship team gets to hold the trophy until the start of the new season. Another cool feature is that the trophy has the name of every NHL champion engraved into its panels. And in most cases, the names of the players on the winning team are also included. A lot more lasting that a T-shirt, I’d say.

But the best thing about the Stanley Cup is that every member of the winning team gets to spend a day with it to do whatever he chooses – within reason, of course. A player can bring it to his hometown and show it off in a parade, much like Crosby did last year when he took the trophy back to his hometown Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Others have taken the Cup on fishing trips. Some have eaten cereal out of its bowl. And if you believe the story, members of the 1994 champion New York Rangers brought the Cup to a strip club in Manhattan. Cruise the Internet if you’re curious and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of funny stories about players’ celebratory adventures with the Cup.

Now that I’ve told you that, let’s drop the puck. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here and I’m ready to enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Hate Is Well Worth It

As I begin writing this column, the Duke University Blue Devils are only hours into celebrating their 2010 NCAA men’s basketball national championship. The Blue Devils barely edged the Butler University Bulldogs 61-59 to take the crown, ending the NCAA Tournament. It was a scintillating, close game the whole way through and the victory was in doubt until the very last shot. Had a half-court heave by Butler’s Gordon Hayward been a few inches shorter, the Bulldogs and all of Indianapolis might be celebrating that school’s first championship.
The result would probably have made many basketball fans, die-hards and casuals alike, much happier. Most fans, it seemed, were pulling for Butler. Or rather, they were rooting against Duke.
That Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team ended up winning the event commonly referred to as March Madness is not sitting well with many fans. After all, the Blue Devils are the “true devils” for plenty of college hoops fans. Duke’s win was poorly received by folks on Twitter as “F—k Duke” became a trending topic less than an hour after the championship game went final. Message boards were filled with angst and anger that Coach K’s crew was able to hoist the trophy, the fourth in Duke’s history. I’m pretty sure that if you talk with your friends in the office this week, at least one will tell you how much he hated seeing the Blue Devils take the title. Or you might be that guy (or lady).
People have their reasons for hating Duke, of course.
Some reasons I’ve heard:
- Coach K “looks like a rat.”
- Duke “gets all the calls from the refs.”
- The Cameron Crazies, the loud mass of Duke students that fill Cameron Indoor Stadium for Blue Devils home games during the college basketball season.
- Former players like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Steve Wojciechowski, a.k.a. Wojo, are unlikable (or dirty).
- Duke is a team of “spoiled, privileged white guys” that can’t possibly be as good as the black-dominated teams fielded by other schools. (Never mind that there has rarely been a Coach K team bereft of a black player. This year’s team had Nolan Smith and Lance Thomas starting.)

Regardless, it is clear the Duke basketball squad is now one of those polarizing teams in American sports. They’re right up there with the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots, Detroit Red Wings and the University of Notre Dame football team as outfits that America loves to hate. With rare exception, opinion of those teams is pretty cut and dry: either you love them or you hate them. And those that hate them make it known to the world that they’ll take great pleasure in seeing those teams lose – badly.
Here’s the thing, though. If a team is hated and so many people aside from fans of the primary rival, they must be doing something right. Aside from an anti-New York sentiment, the Yankees would not be hated too much nationwide if they only had two championships instead of 27. (Yes, I smiled as I wrote that.) The Cowboys would not have as many detractors sans the five Vince Lombardi Trophies in Jerry Jones’ trophy case. The Lakers are not seen as some big, bad purple and gold menace if they have five titles instead of the 15 they’ve collected. Success breeds haters.
It also breeds viewers. For as much as fans hate certain dominant teams and players for “winning too much,” they also love to watch. Check out Safeco Field in Seattle the next time the Yankees are in town to play the Seattle Mariners. Who wants to bet the place won’t be packed? And it will be filled not only because Mariners fans support their team. It will be because they want to see the Yankees – and they want to see if their team can knock them off. Have a look at any NFL game where the Cowboys are the road team. Even if it’s against a team down on its luck like the Cleveland Browns, best believe Cleveland Browns Stadium will be filled with Browns fans lusting for the chance to see their team take out the guys with the stars on their helmets.
The ratings for those teams’ games also bear out the interest in watching the big-name teams play. And you can bet that Tiger Woods, back from his hiatus due to issues in his personal life, will attract a large television rating as he returns to the course for The Masters golf tournament this weekend.
A few new teams are entering that “love to hate” discussion. The Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending NHL Stanley Cup Champions and a frequent television presence thanks to superstar Sidney Crosby, are getting more hatred tossed their way. The Boston Red Sox, a team I dislike simply because of their rivalry with the Yankees, have become more loathed since winning a couple of World Series championships last decade. I’m pretty sure that LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers are in the crosshairs of hate now, simply because LeBron is seemingly everywhere. (Heaven knows how much hate he’ll get if he leaves the Cavaliers for the New York Knicks. By the way, LeBron. If you’re reading this, consider New York heavily. But ignore your friend Jay-Z if he keeps bringing that Nets nonsense your way.)
I’m confident the ratings for Monday’s national title game will be solid because it’s usually an appealing event. It’s more attractive when you have this David vs. Goliath story in Butler vs. Duke. (Even though true college hoops fans will tell you that Butler is a damn good team and not really worthy of the Cinderella label that fit George Mason University perfectly as GMU made a run to the Final Four in 2006.)
We love to see Goliath, even if we don’t necessarily want to see him win. One thing’s for sure. Reggie Jackson was right on when he said, “they don’t boo nobodies.”
So congratulations, Duke. Your team won a great game and deserves to hoist that trophy. And frankly, I don’t hate Duke and don’t mind seeing them win once in a while. (Unless they’re playing my beloved Syracuse University Orange. In that case, I’m a major Duke hater.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool’s Day: Not A Big Fan

Yes, April has finally arrived. I am happy that this fourth month of the year is upon us. It’s my favorite sports month of the year because so much is about to happen. You’ve got the NCAA men’s and women’s Final Four, the NCAA Frozen Four hockey championship, the start of the Major League Baseball season (Go Yankees!), the Masters golf tournament (which would still be a great watch even if we didn’t have to deal with the circus that is Tiger Woods’ return), and the start of the NHL and NBA Playoffs. From a sports standpoint, it’s great.

It’s just that the first day has to get in the way. The first day of the month is, of course, April Fool’s Day. Which means folks are ready to trot out all kinds of jokes to mess with their friends, colleagues or whoever’s watching or reading.

Naturally, April Fool’s Day is heavily celebrated on the Internet. If you’ve checked your email, Twitter, Facebook or any active message board today, you’ve probably come across links to stories that sounds so ridiculous and out there that they can’t possibly be true. And lo and behold, they’re not. Because too many people are already gullible enough to believe that anything on the Web is true. Not surprisingly, some folks didn’t bother to check their calendars to see that the day of the big joke is here along with the sun and warmth of springtime.

Maybe it’s me getting older. Or maybe it’s because I’m a journalist. But I’m not the biggest fan of fake news. After all, there’s enough of them floating around the Web on days before and after April 1. But today, you’re going to see these stories many times over. One sports message board I visit regularly is a breeding ground for fake news on this day. So far, I’ve seen posts that former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Another post supplied the “breaking news” that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, already the subject of heavy NFL off-season trade talk, was going to be traded to their NFC East division rivals, the Washington Redskins. No links were provided to these “news items,” thankfully, and everyone moved on.

The YES Network, broadcast partner of the New York Yankees, joined the party through its River Avenue Blues blog. A “story” published today read that Cablevision, owners of Madison Square Garden, MSG Network, the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, are still interested in purchasing the Yankees, a pursuit that began back in the 1990s when Yankees games still aired on MSG Network. Of course, the end of the blog post had a postcard indicating it was a ruse. But plenty of Yankees fans that didn’t realize it was a joke were up in arms. After all, we know the Yankees have excelled under the Steinbrenner family (please save your hatred, Yankee haters), while the Knicks and Rangers have largely floundered under the Cablevision regime. Given that the story took some pretty sharp digs at Cablevision’s James Dolan, who oversees the Knicks and Rangers and is being held responsible for the failures of the teams in the last decade, it will be interesting to see how MSG bites back.

But here’s when keeping a joke can go all kinds of wrong. A few years ago, when Dan Patrick was at ESPN, he had a segment on his radio show with longtime baseball writer Peter Gammons. Gammons said on air that he’d heard from sources that former Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose, barred from consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame for betting on games, was going to be reinstated, therefore making him eligible for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y. The “news” was cause for celebration among Reds fans and Rose fans anxious to see Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader enter the Hall of Fame. But once Patrick revealed that it was just a joke, he was deluged with angry calls and emails for the duration of the show. Sometimes, a joke can go too well.

I know some of you reading this will tell me to lighten up. After all, most logical people know what today is about and no one will really be hurt by it. True, most of the jokes are harmless and at the end of the day, smart people will figure it out, have a laugh and say, “Man, you got me!” But for folks who pride themselves on presenting the truth to people, it’s not a lot of fun. Especially if you’re the poor sap who has to make calls or go to the scene of what turns out to be nothing but a joke. Or if the credibility of your agency is called into question because someone decided to join with the crowd and be part of the fun of April Fool’s Day.

All this said, I still have a sense of humor and can have a good laugh when someone gets fooled. But at least make your scenarios somewhat plausible. Better yet, leave the fake news to The Onion and The Daily Show.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Can Learn A Lot In 12 Months

The original premise of this entry was going to be about me lamenting that I have been out of work for nearly a year. For those of you keeping track, April 24 will mark the anniversary date of my entry into journalism free agency. Then I figured that would only open the door to more negative and disappointing thoughts. That’s not why I created this blog.

Instead, I’m going to share with you some of what I have learned over the last 12 months. No one ever stops learning. I hope you learn a little something from this as well.

I’m learning a lot more about how traditional media is fading away. More and more of my friends, both working journalists and “civilians,” are getting their news online. That’s not necessarily new to most of us, but the number of people I know personally who no longer buy newspapers or watch the evening news is staggering. Nearly everyone I know is getting his or her news via links on the Web. For some, it’s through links on Facebook. For others, it’s through links or messages on Twitter. For others, it’s relying on friends who shoot them emails or texts. But the days of people picking up the paper are quickly coming to an end. It’s sad for me, a guy who still loves to pick up a paper, scan the headlines and read the content. I’m not saying I’m scared of all this. But I hope that people that are getting their news online only are being cautious about where they get their news. Sure, someone can post a tweet about someone dying in a car crash or about a rally happening downtown. (Or in news I don’t care about, which celebrity was caught sleeping with someone that wasn’t his or her spouse/significant other.) It’s important to get the news, but I hope people are still interested in getting the right news. I also hope my fellow media practitioners are not sacrificing “getting it right” in favor of “getting it first.” That’s a tough balancing act, folks. As much as everyone says journalism is easy, trust me when I say it’s not, especially if you care about what you’re giving to the public. By the way, most journalists DO care about what they put before you, no matter what your skeptical friends think.

Making a clean segue into the next topic, I’m learning that making a Web site, regardless of what it’s about, is not an easy job. My formal education in this comes courtesy of the Website Development Certificate program at Gateway Community College here in Connecticut. Seeing as how I have so much free time on my hands, it makes sense to try to do something more than just look for work and watch television. So for up to three days each week, I make the trek from my home to the Gateway campus in North Haven, Conn. to learn about what goes into making the Web sites so many of us visit. I know more about the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that affect the looks of pages that appear on the World Wide Web. By no means am I an expert and I’m not sure how I’ll use this to re-enter the full-time workforce as a news or sports reporter. But as my brother always told me, more education never hurt anybody. Besides, the courses – and books - are paid for thanks to Connecticut’s Workforce Investment System, which is intended to get people the skills they need to get jobs. With journalism not having as many opportunities as before, I may just find myself using these skills sooner than later. (By the way, you will be seeing a Web site by this author really soon, hopefully by the end of the year. I’ll keep you posted.)

I’ve learned I really care about sports more than other things. This does not mean I am not paying attention to health care reform, the H1N1 outbreak, the rise of the Tea Party movement or even the dire economic situations many states are still facing. These are topics we should all have some knowledge about and keep tabs on, but I care about sports a lot. I watch or listen to more of Mike Francesa’s radio program on WFAN radio in New York than I really should, even when I vehemently disagree with the host and/or his callers. I flip to ESPN frequently in the mornings whenever CNN goes to commercial break. I’m watching every damn New York Rangers hockey game until the end of the season to see if they can make it to the NHL Playoffs, even though I’m fully prepared to accept them not making it because it seems like they only decided two weeks ago to play with a sense of urgency. I’m still wondering why the Syracuse University Orange basketball team played so awful in their regional semifinal loss to the Butler Bulldogs, thus making everyone who said they didn’t deserve to be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament feel better about their thoughts. (No matter that only one of the four top seeds in the Big Dance made it to the Final Four.) Plus, I’m looking forward to the start of baseball season and will be glued to the TV on the night of April 4, when my beloved New York Yankees begin their quest for a 28th World Series championship against the rival Boston Red Sox. I also know that, despite me having to be careful with money, I must fulfill my Yankee fan obligation and get a new Yankees fitted cap for the season. (I get one every two years. You can’t break with tradition, can you?) Hard news will always get my eyes and ears when it’s important, but that love of sports is hard to shake. I hope it never fades away, especially since I would like to write more sports in the future.

I have learned that getting fresh air and being around others is very good for you. Even if it’s a trip to the gym, a night at the movies or a walk along a nature trail, being out is good. Staying in the house all the time feeling down about your lack of a job, that bill you can’t pay or that company that didn’t call or email you back about your application can drive you crazy if you let it. It’s imperative to get the hell out the house, if only for an hour or so. Even if you are working, do a little something to change your scene for a second. Take a walk. Read a book for pleasure. Take a friend out for dinner or go along if he or she invites you. Sometimes, you need a departure, even if it’s for a moment. The job search and freelance assignments through the Valley Independent Sentinel have offered some escapes. Freelance work and interviews have taken me to places I otherwise would not have traveled to, including Great Barrington, Mass., Hyannis, Mass. (that's in Cape Cod for those who may not know), Boston, Putnam, Conn., and Mahopac, N.Y. None of the trips has landed me a new job, but it’s taken me away from my place for a bit. The interviews have also given me a chance to wear a suit – and I do look good in a suit, if I do say so myself.

Finally, I have learned that you realize who your true friends are and who cares about you the most in difficult times. This is for the people who call every day or week to see how you’re doing. The ones who send you little candies or other trinkets to brighten your spirits, even if you're already feeling jovial. The people who go beyond an email or a post on your Facebook wall when your birthday or a special holiday rolls along. Not saying that the last two aren’t appreciated, but there’s more of a personal touch when you tell someone in a phone call or a visit or a card that you care. And I am not big on cards, but you tend to think that someone really cares about you when they send you a card or a letter as opposed to doing something electronic. So thank you to my friends and my family (especially my older brother) for checking in on me and making sure things were all right, even if I was busy watching a game or doggedly preparing yet another job application. Along those same lines, I have learned that young children REALLY care about just having you around. I visited with my old college friend's two youngest children when their birthdays rolled around. As happy as they were with the cakes and the gifts they received, they were more than happy when “Uncle Melvin” dropped by to play games or just to act goofy with them, albeit after pulling me away from their father and grandfather and interrupting mature conversations. (Note: his older kids also appreciated seeing me, just as I did seeing them. Both of ‘em are soon to be heading to college. Man, those kids grow up fast. Too fast.)

One other thing to add to the things I’ve learned: That I still love writing. This entry was not supposed to be this long. But I could not help it. Then again, you probably figured that out since you bothered to read this far, right?
Maybe I’ll learn a little more about you because of it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What, Me Worry?

The past nine months have been challenging. I’m sure plenty of you reading these words can relate to the current tough times, particularly those of you who are with me in the not-so-great world of unemployment. While folks that are working their hardest every day have concerns, those of us still searching for employment have to make some pretty difficult decisions. Every choice we make affects the bottom line – and that bottom line is razor-thin.

Since losing my job nine months ago, I’ve become more frugal. I rent movies from the library instead of going to a video store or getting a Netflix account. I rarely go out to dinner and try to save on gas and food where I can. Although I’ve made a little extra money doing freelance stories here and there, it’s not going to buy me apartment space in Trump Tower anytime soon. (Unless freelance journalism pay increases about a thousand times. Given the state of the industry, I’m not holding my breath.) For those unemployed or underemployed, there is no discretionary income. If you lived with tight purse strings before, it’s even tighter when every dollar counts that much more. One major expense, like a car repair or a major medical bill, can set you back and have you stressed out for days.

That’s why I’m writing today. Not about money, but about the stress, the worry and the anxiety that comes with difficult financial and emotional times. It can get to just about anyone. It can damn near paralyze you if you let it. It had done so to me in the past. There were times where I froze on making big decisions because I worried so much. Could I afford this? Would I regret that? What if disaster strikes? You can run yourself ragged stressing about nightmare scenarios of what will happen to you if the roof caves in. This is one case where it hurts to have such a vivid imagination.

Over the last few months, I have done some learning. Worry was one topic I took particular interest in since worry wore me and several friends out in years past. Even when I was working, it seemed there was always something to worry about.

I knew I could not stop worrying altogether. (Who can?) But I wanted to find a way to not have it be so consuming that it became a detriment to making progress in anything or just plain living. I borrowed several books to study up on worry. One is Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying and Start Living. Although first published in 1948, it holds plenty of worthwhile advice for people in today’s world worrying themselves to death. My favorite is the theory of living in day-tight compartments. You can’t change yesterday because it’s already gone and you can’t worry about tomorrow because it’s not here yet. Carnegie’s advice: do all you can for the day until bedtime.
Another tip asks readers to write out their problems instead of making rash decisions. The idea is to write out what the problem is, what’s causing it, what possible solutions there are, and then determining the best solution to that problem.

Carnegie's book also tells you to keep busy to keep worry off your mind. He couldn’t be more right. The moment I immerse myself in a project, be it cleaning out my car, neatening up my place, going to the gym or writing, I tend to not to stress so much about a particular problem. The book doesn’t tell you not to think or plan for what’s coming. It’s telling you not to let your worries get the best of you or have them in your mind more than good thoughts.
In fact, I wrote this in part because I couldn’t sleep. I found myself lying awake, worried about several things that I couldn’t take care of until sunrise and figured flexing the fingers on the keyboard might do me some good. It did. Guessing I might turn in early today once sleep finally decides to come to me.

The most important thing I may have learned from Carnegie’s book is putting a "stop-loss" order on your worries. Meaning that you should put a limit on how much you’re going to worry about something and stop there. Some things can’t be changed and you can only worry so long about them. You have to move on.

My working at not worrying also led me to become better at planning for the day ahead. In my younger days, I would just get to the office and work on whatever was in front of me or whatever an editor asked of me. I was far from organized. I’m still not an ace at it, but I’m better than I used to be at prioritizing what needs to be done and by when. It really does benefit you to write out your goals for the day or week ahead. Checking off all the things you got done is a pretty good feeling. And who couldn’t use a little positive feeling in these iffy times, right? (Note: I’m still working on writing in a day planner.)

I just wanted to share this. I’m not going to claim to be some sage or expert on worry. I still face challenges and I’m going to continue to face them even after I’m gainfully employed again, so worry won’t go too far. But the key thing is you can’t let it stop you from moving forward.
I can’t worry too much right now. I have things to do and a life to live.