Category Archives: Sports

Maggie’s birthday, and the Montreal Expos

This morning I checked the date and thought, “It’s Maggie’s birthday!”

I laughed at myself then, because Maggie isn’t real. Well, that’s not true. She’s real to me.

She’s a character in a novel I’m writing. She was born in Shea Stadium on the day the Montreal Expos played their first game—fifty years ago today, April 8, 1969. The place and time of her birth determine her destiny: She is the female entrepreneur who brings back the Montreal Expos.

Some people say baseball is life, and I would agree. That’s why so many of our day-to-day expressions (clichés) come from the game: step up to the plate, go down swinging, cover all the bases, throw a curve ball, swing for the fences, or better yet, knock it out of the park. I’m just spitballing here, and maybe you think it’s a screwball idea coming out of left field and that I’m way off base—you can touch base with me about that later—but if you’re a heavy hitter who plays hardball, even if you occasionally strike out, soon it’s a whole new ball game.

I could go on.

Life Lessons from Dead Women (working title) is about baseball and life. Some of Maggie’s life lessons include:

Hot dog buns make excellent pillows.

Damage helps us get a grip.

Wrong is right and right is wrong, but it’s all right.

Curious . . .? I hope so.

Expos baseball cap and jersey with number 8
My Gary Carter jersey. Gary Carter’s birthday was also April 8.

I was alive at the time the Expos played that first game against the New York Mets, but I don’t remember it. I know that my father would have had his nose up to the TV. He was a baseball fan in general and an Expos fan in particular. He taught all of us the game, and led us on trips to Jarry Park to watch them play. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the bleachers and watching the great Rusty Staub warm up.

I don’t remember the game, but I’ll have a chance to listen to it. TSN 690 Radio in Montreal is replaying the original broadcast at 7:00 p.m. EDT, April 8.

https://www.tsn.ca/radio/montreal-690/schedule

Boy at bat
My favourite Expos player: My son, Ben, age 8, during his first trip to the plate.
Steve Rogers signed baseball
Steve Rogers was pretty good too.

Happy 50th birthday, Montreal Expos. And Maggie.

Nancy Greene advice: Look at where you’re going, not what you’re going through

To receive a skiing tip from Canadian alpine ski legend Nancy Greene Raine is a priceless gift.

It’s also slightly embarrassing.

We spent last week skiing at the Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, and one of the immeasurably valuable benefits available at the mountain is the opportunity to ski with Nancy Greene, Olympic medalist and World Cup champion.

Sign on ski hill about skiing with Nancy Greene Raine

She is gracious, kind and generous with her time. Several times a week she skis with visitors to Sun Peaks, and last Tuesday I was one of those lucky guests.

I’m a competent skier, but it seems that no matter what I do, I am always last in any group. I don’t care for speed. So, that day fifteen or twenty skiers followed Nancy down the hill, and I trailed behind.

She stopped to make sure the group held together. Of course I was last. She and all those fifteen or twenty skiers watched me struggle with fresh snow on the final slope.

“You’re all right?” she asked.

Oh God. Was it that bad? 

“When you’re skiing, look ahead at the big picture,” she said. “Don’t keep your eyes on the snow just in front of your skis or you’ll get tense. Look ahead and relax.”

I remembered her advice when I skied after that, and it helped. I noticed it especially on Friday night when we attended the Alpine Fondue & Starlight Descent.

We enjoyed a three-course fondue dinner at the restaurant on the mountain and then skied down after dark via starlight and headlamps.

chocolate fondue
The final course – chocolate!

Spectacular.

Skiing in the dark meant that I had to free myself of concerns about what lay ahead. I had to relax and go with the flow. I took this photo of other members of my group coming down the mountain AFTER me.

skiers with headleamps on a dark hill

I wasn’t last!

I had time to stop, remove my gloves, take out my phone, unlock it and take the picture, and just look how far behind me those skiers are.

Keep our eyes on where we’re going, not what we’re going through.

Freeing, free advice from a champion

snowy mountain scene
Four-year-old girl riding a small bicycle with training wheels.

Bicycles and women: Engineering social reform

I have a new respect for bicycles.

This one in particular. I wasn’t alive in the 1880s, but this bicycle directly affected my life nonetheless. 

First modern bicycle
First modern bicycle on display at the Coventry Transport Museum

John Kemp Starley developed the Rover safety bicycle to replace the precarious large-wheeled Penny Farthings. The safer bicycle allowed more people across more classes to get around, and some of those people were women.  

Plaque reads: Engineering Heritage Award. The low-riding position and chain-driven rear wheel allowed this bicycle to be enjoyed by all. It also played a role in the liberation of women.

Can you imagine biking with a long skirt and petticoats tangling in and around the chain?

Around the same time that J. K. Starley was engineering a safer bicycle (and lessening the impact of fossil fuel emissions hundreds of years later), the Rational Dress Society formed in London, England to protest clothing that deformed the figure, impeded movement or injured a woman’s health.

Many people (men and women) didn’t like the idea of women traipsing about in pants.

How would they tell the genders apart, by gum?

But women of the time wanted or needed to get around, and the safety bicycle made it possible. If only they didn’t have to take their life into their hands every time they peddled along with long skirts dangling around a bike chain. The Rational Dress Society was right: wearing a long skirt while riding a bike was not only irrational, it was downright dangerous.

The demand was too great and the logic too sound. Society changed, and rather quickly for the time. Bicycles allowed women freedom of movement, both in terms of clothing and transportation, and that opened up other areas for them.

Without bicycles, changes to wardrobe might have been a longer time coming.

I doubt that J.K. Starley had women’s rights or environmental protection on his mind back in the 1880s, but those are the unintended consequences of his work.

I have a new respect for bicycles.

Four-year-old girl riding a small bicycle with training wheels.
Thanks to J.K. Starley, my daughter could smile with carefree joy (in pants) while learning to ride a bike that had the same features as his first safety bicycle. (Photo 1998)

The Captain Class and the art of social loafing

My reading material during my ski vacation last week was The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker. The book had me thinking about leadership and team work beyond the world of sports.

What makes a great leader? How to get the most out of a team?

To write the book, the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section examined sports teams that achieved exceptional success and tried to figure out what drove the outstanding accomplishments. His findings surprised him, and me.

He found that the freakishly successful teams shared the same kind of captain, and it wasn’t the glamorous version of captain that would spring to your mind. Instead of the gregarious highly skilled aces, the flamboyant superstars or the squeaky clean idols, the captains were what he called the glue guys, or the water carriers. 

They were:

  1. Dogged and focused to the extreme
  2. Aggressive players who tested the limits of the rules (and sometimes crossed them)
  3. Willing to do thankless jobs in the shadows
  4. Low-key, practical and democratic
  5. Able to motivate others with non-verbal cues
  6. Courageous and willing to stand apart if it meant upholding a strong conviction
  7. Ironclad controllers of emotions

His captains achieved success not through exceptionally skilled play, but by never giving up They didn’t shun the small jobs, but instead did whatever grunt work needed to be done for the good of the team, not themselvesThey didn’t deliver flowery motivational speeches, but they held people accountable by looking people in the eye

It’s easy to quibble with the scientific method Sam Walker used to arrive at his list of exceptional teams, but with hundreds of thousands of sports teams around the world to work with he had to narrow it somehow. He almost excluded baseball which would have led me to shelve the book immediately, but—phew—baseball skimmed through his criteria sieve and I was able to carry on.

I was particularly intrigued by the idea of social loafing, an idea born out of research by Maximilien Ringelmann. Ringelmann tested the amount of effort exerted by people pulling on a rope. He started with low numbers of people and then added on. You would think that the more people pulling on a rope, the more effort would be exerted, but he found that the more people, the less effort each individual exerted. Working as a team caused people to work less strenuously than when working alone.

We’re willing to coast a little when we feel other people can carry a little of our load. 

Anyone who has ever been part of a group project has seen this kind of dynamic at play. We assume that the highly skilled star players motivate teammates to work hard and try to excel at the same level, but Walker’s examination of exceptional teams seemed to indicate the opposite. Fellow team members of superstars were willing to let them carry the load.

But when less-skilled dogged captains courageously and aggressively lead a team, individual efforts around them increase too.

Who are the people in the organizations that you work or play in who never give up? Who does the grunt work for the good of the team, not themselves? Who holds you accountable by looking you in the eye?

Who are your water carriers?

Baseball: A guilty pleasure

I just finished reading Stacey May Fowles book, Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me. I read chapter after chapter thinking, “Yes! She gets it.

Skydome/Rogers Centre where we love to go to cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays

She writes about going to baseball games alone (done it), treading with reverence on the turf of the Skydome/Rogers Centre (done it), stopping at empty baseball diamonds and taking time there to meditatively soak up an atmosphere that feels sacredly church-like (done it), going to games with dad on Father’s Day (miss it), stepping out of social events to check on the score of Jays games (do it all the time), and so on. Chapter after chapter she touched on subjects I could relate to.

It’s not easy being a female baseball fan.

Many times I have been involved in baseball conversations with people and made comments about a particular game or a team or player—comments that reveal my baseball knowledge as much more than casual or superficial—only to see a look of startled re-evaluation appear on their faces.

Enjoying one of my favourite pastimes – an afternoon at a baseball game.

Most people don’t expect a woman to really know the sport.

I don’t make a secret of my passion for baseball. Our son plays, so we travelled with him all over southern Ontario and the northern U.S. for years. And I often joke about how my favourite time of year is when I give my television remote a good workout by watching baseball, hockey, tennis, and curling all at the same time. It’s even part of my official biography on this site. People know this about me.

But I don’t brag about my love for baseball either. Maybe I need to start, because it’s apparent people don’t fully understand.

Last Tuesday night I hosted my book club at my house. Before the event started, I was home alone—my husband out at his usual Tuesday night tennis match. My friends wouldn’t arrive until 7:30p.m., so at 7:00 I turned on the TV thinking I could catch the first 20 minutes of the Jays game. I was annoyed to discover a 30-minute rain delay in Boston. “Great,” I muttered. “Now I won’t see any of the game.”

I stayed with the channel though, because any baseball is better than no baseball. I watched Baltimore and Texas, quite happily until my book club friends arrived. When I saw the cars pull up I left the TV on so I could peek in and check the score later in the evening when I was preparing the refreshments.

I ushered my friends in, and as we walked by the TV one of them said, “Don (my husband) must be here.”

“No,” I said. “He’s playing tennis.”

“Oh?”my friend said. “Who’s watching baseball?”

“I am,” I said.

Surprised into silence, my friends carried on into my sunroom for our book club discussion.

It struck me how my friends—who know me so well—could not believe that I would watch a game by myself, by choice. They assumed a man needed to be around to make that choice and then I would just follow along. They would certainly not guess that of all the viewing options on any given evening, baseball is my first choice. I felt just a little like I’d been caught watching porn, or something that I should feel guilty about.

I don’t feel guilty. Baseball for me is not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure.

Not everyone understands, but it’s good to know that at least Stacey May Fowles gets it.

 

The music of the universe

Have you ever noticed that when a sports team celebrates a spectacular play or a big win they gather in a group and jump up and down in a rhythm that matches that of every other sports team celebrating a spectacular play or big win, no matter where or when it happens in the world?

Baseball players jumping around the walk-off home run hitter, soccer teams jumping around the penalty shot goal kicker, football linebackers jumping around the winning touchdown receiver—they all jump up and down in the same rhythm.

It’s the Big Win Beat.

April is National Poetry Month so my mind turned to rhythms, and  thinking about rhythm led me to ponder baseball/soccer/football team jumpers, and sports teams made me ponder the music of the universe.

Anna Maria Island beach

The rhythmic sound of ocean waves

Rhythmic vibrations, like chirping crickets, cars travelling on a gravel road, cicadas piping in, cardinals calling to each other, car doors slamming, winds howling . . .

Discordant sounds we want to write out of our daily life symphony—a Sea-Doo on a quiet lake, a frantic child’s cry, bombs . . .

Do we all subconsciously live by this rhythm? Do we all adjust our actions to it? Are we picking up music from the atmosphere like the child in August Rush?

Is that what leads us to poetry?

I don’t know the answer, I’m musing so you can muse along with me—rhythmically, not discordantly.


April 27 is Poem in Your Pocket Day. People are encouraged to pick a poem, carry it with them through the day and share it with others.

Find out more here: http://poets.ca/pocketpoem/


My poem will be one written by my much-missed friend Bruce Henderson, who had to learn how important it is to receive gifts from other graciously.

GRACE OF THE GOOD GIVEE

Bring me your gifts,
I will be strong,
strong enough to take them.
Yes, I have room for your gifts,
in my hands, in my home, in my heart,
I welcome you in—to my infinite yin.
There is a time to give
and a time to get,
and every Giver needs a Good Givee.
I am ready to accept,
to receive your loving kindness;
the warm message of your gifts.
In joy we will celebrate
the power of your act.
When you reach out
I will not try to run away.
Come spirit,
grant me the grace of the Good Givee.

©Bruce Henderson 2010