Thursday, September 17, 2015

P.K. SUBBAN'S GREATEST GIFT



"In life I believe you are not defined by what you accomplish, but by what you
 do for others,"  P.K. Subban.

In his brief 26 years on the planet,  P.K. Subban had been defined by what he does,
a beautifully skilled hockey player who took his talents to the NHL. But for the rest of
his life, the veteran of the Montreal Canadiens, Subban will be remembered for what
he did Wednesday.

Subban donated a whopping $10 million dollars to a children's hospital in Montreal,
making it the biggest philanthropic gift by a professional athlete in the history of the country.

$10 million.

For a children's hospital.

Wow. Simply amazing.

If Subban ever wins the MVP of the NHL or raises the Stanley Cup, it still won't be
enough of an accomplishment to surpass the one he achieved Wednesday. To the people
of North America, Subban is a hero forever. To make such contribution to a children's
is both jaw-dropping and beyond heartwarming.


The $10 million donation will be made during the next seven years, and part of it
will be used to create a fund called "P.K.'s Helping Hands," which will provide financial
assistance to families of sick children so they can concentrate on caring for them instead
of worrying about how they will provide for their family while their child is in the hospital.

Amazing.

In a sports world that's been rife with scandal after scandal and poorly behaved athletes
like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Lance Armstrong, and Tiger Woods, Subban
is a huge deodorizer that temporarily covers up the stench. He's the breath of fresh
air the world needs right about now.


There are many, many athletes who make far more than Subban, who recently signed
an 8-year, $72 million contract, but few that will ever do what Subban did.

I have played and covered sports for nearly my entire life and my days of hero worshipping
ended when I was about 16-years-old. I admire and respect professional athletes for their
awe-inspiring talent, but I learned a long time ago, they are just human beings like the
the rest of us, complete with warts and imperfections.

P.K. Subban has changed that. I don't care what kind of hockey player he is, but his
gift to the hospital in Montreal, made him a person I respect and greatly admire.
He is professional athlete who truly "gets it', as evidenced by what he said at Wednesday's
ceremony.

 "Sometimes I try to think, 'P.K., are you a hockey player or are you just someone
who plays hockey?' I just play hockey. Because one day I won't be a hockey player a
nymore. I'll just be someone who played hockey. So what do I want people to remember
me for other than being a hockey player?

"Well, every time you walk into this hospital, you'll know what I stand for."

P.K. Subban gets it. I just wish other athletes would "get it" as well.





Saturday, September 5, 2015

CHANNELING MY INNER ROB KONRAD


6.2 miles in the open water is a long way, making for a lot of time to think about
things. Long before I drew down my googles and jumped in Lake George for the
start of the marathon swim race, I knew exactly what I was going to think about to
help get me through this endurance challenge:

Rob Konrad and his epic, swim-for-his-life journey eight months ago

The former fullback of the Miami Dolphins fell out of his boat off the coast of Florida
and had just two options: sink or swim to safety. Trouble was, safety and land was nine
miles away. Nine long miles. He had to swim through the night with sharks circling around
him without having any food, water, or a competitive swimming background. Can't
imagine Konrad was liking his odds of surviving.

I just about came out of the womb swimming and swam competitively until I was
12-years-old. Years of mind-numbing double-sessions and the boredom that goes with
staring at a black line for more than 6,000 yards a day, was just about all I could handle.
I was cooked and said bye-bye to the sport. Or so I thought.


When I started my swim around Lake George, which is one of the cleanest, freshest lakes
in the world, I thought about Konrad and what he had to endure to make it back to
shore that January night in 2015. That was my ticket for getting through this grueling event.
I figured if a guy like Konrad could survive in the ocean's salt water and all that goes with
it, I could go the distance of 6.2 miles.

When the water got choppy on the way out to the turnaround point, I thought of Konrad
battling five-foot waves during his nine-mile swim. Now, that is tough. I grinded it out
the only way I knew how.  I just attacked it. Exactly a month earlier and less than an
hour away, I completed the iconic Ironman for a second time, which included a 2.4
mile swim.

Even at the age of 51, I can pretty much fall out of bed in the dead of winter and complete
a 2.4 mile swim in under 1:10. Swimming came naturally to me. However, I only spent
five sessions in the pool preparing for the 6.2 mile race in Lake George. Not finishing
was not an option. It was just a matter of how much time it would take me and what
shape I would come out of the water in.

Konrad finished his swim-for-life, nine mile journey in 16 hours basically because
he kept getting pushed around by the waves. He said he followed the lights on shore that
he saw through the darkness. I tried to follow my line of sight to each buoy flanking the
course, but I kept going of my mark.  I was incredulous to how Konrad could find his
way back to shore in the darkness in waves that were crushing him.


Many people were skeptical of Konrad's story but they didn't account for his incredible
will. They seemed to forget all he endured to be a college All-American, second-round
draft pick, and a man who survived six years in the dog-eat-dog world of the NFL.

Only the strong survive in that league. He was mentally tough, had a high-pain threshold,
and when he was in the Atlantic Ocean, Konrad was driven by one thing: seeing his
wife and three girls again. He didn't want them to have to grow up without a father.

I was hardly in any danger of losing my life, being fish food for sharks, or getting
hypotherma. Konrad got that plus severe dehydration, and a condition that sees the
fibers in the muscles break down.


The only thing I battled during my 6.2 mile swim was a pair of burning shoulders. It
felt like someone was jabbing a red-hot poker into my rotator cuffs over the last two
miles of the race. Other than that, I actually felt great.  Thinking of all that Konrad
went through made the distance seem easy for me. If I were in Konrad's suit and had to
swim in the ocean at night and sharks circling, my heart would've jumped through
my throat.

My swim was a piece of cake and I loved every minute of it. Using Konrad's experience
during my quest to complete the race made it seem like a mile swim in the pool.


I came out of the water and crossed the finish line in a time of 3:21, which wasn't too
bad. I wasn't popping champagne but I was thoroughly satisfied with my performance.

I can't wait to do it again next year. I'm quite sure Rob Konrad didn't utter those words
after coming onto the shore in Florida that early morning in January.

There's a good chance he's telling everyone who will listen that anything is truly possible.

Monday, August 24, 2015

ECK, GIBSON & A PICTURE WORTH MORE THAN 1,000 WORDS



Kirk Gibson. The Eck. The Picture.

When I saw the two baseball legends captured in a picture that was posted in a twitter
feed I rarely check, a flood of memories rushed through my brain like Usain Bolt on crack:
incredibly fast, producing a burst of unbridled joy that ends with one simple word:

Wow.

A simple photo where a caption wasn't necessary and the subjects didn't seem to mind
their moment was interrupted by someone whose sole purpose was seemingly to post
the picture on Facebook just to get 1,000 'likes'.

Dennis Eckersley, as cool a guy as there's ever been in the history of game, spending
a moment with a man he's forever connected with, Kirk Gibson, a man who played the
game with spectacular grit, passion, and intensity. If you know what happened with them
on a baseball field in 1988, it wouldn't take much to figure how beautiful this simple,
yet powerful photo really is.

It was the first time I'd ever seen them pictured together, in or out of uniform, since
one incredible baseball moment put them in the same sentence forever in 1988.


1988 represented a time in my life where baseball was the second most important thing
in my life behind my family. I had just finished my first season as a minor-league player
in the Boston Red Sox organization and I was as engrossed in the game as a person
could possibly be. It was my true passion.


In the Fall of 1988, the Oakland A's met the Los Angles Dodgers in Game 1 of the
World Series. Eckersley was the most dominant pitcher in the game as a shut down
closer, preceding Yankees great Mariano Rivera as a baseball assassin whom opposing
hitters seemingly conceited at-bats to because they realized they had virtually no shot
of getting a hit off them, much less the fat part of the barrel on the ball.

Gibson was a throwback, a player who asked no quarter and gave no quarter, either.
As a newly signed free-agent, he changed the country club culture of the of the Dodgers,
imposing his will, intensity, and passion on a team that desperately needed it.


By the time the World Series came around Gibson was a shadow of the player
who'd win the National League MVP that season. His legs ravaged with injury,
making him a man who could  barely walk, let alone swing a bat with any kind
of authority.

Gibson didn't start Game 1 against  Oakland, in fact, he didn't even bother to come
out for pre-game introductions because he was in such pain. He did promise Dodgers
manager Tom Lasorda he could give him one at-bat if he needed him in a late-game
situation.

That situation came three hours later when the Dodgers trailed the A's by a run
in the ninth inning. Eckersley came in and more than a few fans headed for the
exits to beat the traffic. Gibson came to the plate with two outs, walking as if
there wasn't a single ounce of joy in his life, the happiness sapped by the
pain of injuries sweeping through his lower body.


If you're a baseball fan, you know what happened next. Gibson shocked the
Eck and the baseball world with a walk-off home run to win the game, propelling
the Dodgers to a monumental upset of the almighty A's.

Flash forward 27 years later to Detroit, where Gibson is working as an analyst
for the Tigers, the Eck is doing the same for the Red Sox. They meet in
a hallway of the broadcast wing of Comerica Park. I could only imagine what
was going through their minds when they stopped to chat.

Gibson was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Eckersley dealt with
demons in the early part of his career, battling alcoholism and a career that was
going in the tank before reinventing himself as a Hall of Fame closer. Gibson's
signature moment of his career was a heart-stopping, iconic home run that will
will forever be part of baseball lore. Eckersely will forever be the dominant
closer who gave up that magnanimous home run.


But that moment didn't shatter Eckersely as it did Donnie Moore or even
Ralph Branca, who gave up the home run to Bobby Thompson in the ninth
inning to give the NY Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.

Eck was just too good and downright too cool for that to happen.

I had the good fortune of working with Eckersley for two years during my time
at NESN. A man once said to me, "Paul, perception is reality." Eckersley convinced
me that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.

Eckersley was  perceived to be brash, cocky, and arrogant. He was somewhat reserved
off the field and a bit of a showman  on it. He'd punctuate a big  strikeout with a point
of the finger or a pump of the fist. Admittedly, I bought into that image as well.



That perception couldn't be further from reality.

Eckersley is the coolest, most down-to-earth Hall of Famer  there's ever been. While
at NESN, he never played the role of a superstar, never talked down to anyone, or
made like he was better than anyone else.

He always had a minute for me, always returned my calls, and never said no when
I'd ask him to offer his unpaid analysis while I worked at MLB.com.



Unfortunately, during all my years in sports broadcasting, I never met Gibson, but I'm
fairly certain the perception of him was reality. He was gritty, gutty, and a bad-ass
when it came to competing on the field. I'm sure he's battling Parkinson's disease just
as he did all those injuries during his magical season in 1988: Without complaint and
dignity.

When pictured together as they were in Detroit, Eckersley and Gibson represented what
a lot o life and baseball is all about. There is triumph, defeat, victory, set-up backs,
toughness, trying times, passion, dignity, energy, and perseverance.

For me, it will forever be a picture of more than 1,000 words.

ECK, GIBSON, AND A PICTURE WORTH MORE THAN 1,000 WORDS



Kirk Gibson. The Eck. The Picture.

When I saw the two baseball legends captured in a picture that was posted in a twitter
feed I rarely check, a flood of memories rushed through my brain like Usain Bolt on crack:
incredibly fast, producing a burst of unbridled joy that ends with one simple word:

Wow.

A simple photo where a caption wasn't necessary and the subjects didn't seem to mind
their moment was interrupted by someone whose sole purpose was seemingly to post
the picture on Facebook just to get 1,000 'likes'.

Dennis Eckersley, as cool a guy as there's ever been in the history of game, spending
a moment with a man he's forever connected with, Kirk Gibson, a man who played the
game with spectacular grit, passion, and intensity. If you know what happened with them
on a baseball field in 1988, it wouldn't take much to figure how beautiful this simple,
yet powerful photo really is.

It was the first time I'd ever seen them pictured together, in or out of uniform, since
one incredible baseball moment put them in the same sentence forever in 1988.


1988 represented a time in my life where baseball was the second most important thing
in my life behind my family. I had just finished my first season as a minor-league player
in the Boston Red Sox organization and I was as engrossed in the game as a person
could possibly be. It was my true passion.


In the Fall of 1988, the Oakland A's met the Los Angles Dodgers in Game 1 of the
World Series. Eckersley was the most dominant pitcher in the game as a shut down
closer, preceding Yankees great Mariano Rivera as a baseball assassin whom opposing
hitters seemingly conceited at-bats to because they realized they had virtually no shot
of getting a hit off them, much less the fat part of the barrel on the ball.

Gibson was a throwback, a player who asked no quarter and gave no quarter, either.
As a newly signed free-agent, he changed the country club culture of the of the Dodgers,
imposing his will, intensity, and passion on a team that desperately needed it.


By the time the World Series came around Gibson was a shadowy of the player
who'd win the National League MVP that season. His legs ravaged with injury,
making him a man who could  barely walk, let alone swing a bat with any kind
of authority.

Gibson didn't start Game 1 against  Oakland, in fact, he didn't even bother to come
out for pre-game introductions because he was in such pain. He did promise Dodgers
manager Tom Lasorda he could give him one at-bat if he needed him in a late-game
situation.

That situation came three hours later when the Dodgers trailed the A's by a run
in the ninth inning. Eckersley came in and more than a few fans headed for the
exits to beat the traffic. Gibson came to the plate with two outs, walking as if
there wasn't a single ounce of joy in his life, the happiness sapped by the
pain of injuries sweeping through his lower body.


If you're a baseball fan, you know what happened next. Gibson shocked the
Eck and the baseball world with a walk-off home run to win the game, propelling
the Dodgers to a monumental upset of the almighty A's.

Flash forward 27 years later to Detroit, where Gibson is working as an analyst
for the Tigers, the Eck is doing the same for the Red Sox. They meet in
a hallway of the broadcast wing of Comerica Park. I could only imagine what
was going through their minds when they stopped to chat.

Gibson was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Eckersley dealt with
demons in the early part of his career, battling alcoholism and a career that was
going in the tank before reinventing himself as a Hall of Fame closer. Gibson's
signature moment of his career was a heart-stopping, iconic home run that will
will forever be part of baseball lore. Eckersely will forever be the dominant
closer who gave up that magnanimous home run.


But that moment didn't shatter Eckersely as it did Donnie Moore or even
Ralph Branca, who gave up the home run to Bobby Thompson in the ninth
inning to give the NY Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.

Eck was just too good and downright too cool for that to happen.

I had the good fortune of working with Eckersley for two years during my time
at NESN. A man once said to me, "Paul, perception is reality." Eckersley convinced
me that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.

Eckersley was  perceived to be brash, cocky, and arrogant. He was somewhat reserved
off the field and a bit of a showman  on it. He'd punctuate a big  strikeout with a point
of the finger or a pump of the fist. Admittedly, I bought into that image as well.



That perception couldn't be further from reality.

Eckersley is the coolest, most down-to-earth Hall of Famer  there's ever been. While
at NESN, he never played the role of a superstar, never talked down to anyone, or
make like he was better than anyone else.

He always had a minute for me, always returned my calls, and never said no when
I'd ask him to offer his unpaid analysis while I worked at MLB.com.



Unfortunately, during all my years in sports broadcasting, I never met Gibson, but I'm
fairly certain the perception of him was reality. He was gritty, gutty, and a bad-ass
when it came to competing on the field. I'm sure he's battling Parkinson's disease just
as he did all those injuries during his magical season in 1988: Without complaint and
dignity.

When pictured together as they were in Detroit, Eckersley and Gibson represented what
a lot o life and baseball is all about. There is triumph, defeat, victory, set-up backs,
toughness, trying times, passion, dignity, energy, and perseverance.

For me, it will forever be a picture of more than 1,000 words.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

TEBOW, TIGER, AND 'DON'T EVER GIVE UP'



"Tebow is the single worst quarterback I've ever seen in the NFL."
                                                                                              --former NFL kicker Jay Feely

It's not the critic who counts.....


"Tiger Woods is just painful to watch right now."
                                                               --Butch Harmon, Tiger's ex-swing coach.


....Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles.

Tim Tebow is back in the consciousness of the sports world after nearly two years of
dealing with failure. He's in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles trying to earn a spot
on a very tight and talented roster. On Sunday, he returned to a standing ovation while
scoring a touchdown in a preseason game against Indianapolis.


Tiger Woods has been washed out of our consciousness because his steady failures
in a  game now filled with young and wildly-talented players who have  passed him
by. As Jason Day was raising the Wannamaker trophy Sunday, Tiger was back home,
watching a game he once thoroughly dominated while seeing his ranking plummet
into the 300's.

Like Tiger, Tebow dominated his game once, albeit at the college level, earning a Heisman
Trophy and two national championships at the University of Florida. He was the king of
college football and a legend long before he left the campus in Gainesville.


Tebow was like Tiger in that he had his legion of haters and when his talent, or lack of it,
got exposed in the NFL, the haters and 'expert' analysts made like he was a piƱata and just
kept whacking and whacking away at him.

A funny thing happened though,  Tebow never broke. Ever. He got traded by the
Broncos, cut by the Jets and Patriots, and couldn't even get an invite to training camp by
his hometown team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, who sucked worse than he did.

However, Tebow, never quit and never gave up on himself. He worked with throwing
specialist Tom House and continued to work out in hopes of getting another shot with
an NFL team, which the 'critics' said, seemed about as likely as Ryan Leaf hooking on
with the New England Patriots and taking over for Tom Brady.


Despite all the hate, the critics, and an NFL door that seemed all but bolted shut, Tebow
didn't quit. Nope, he didn't let anyone else tell him that he was done and it was time
to move on with his life.

The haters and critics have been all over Tiger going back to that regrettable night when
he barreled down his driveway in an ambien-fueled haze, knocking over a fire hydrant
letting all the sordid details of his private life come gushing out.

Tiger hasn't been the same since. Oh, sure, he's won a lot of tournaments, but has gone
MIA in the major ones, which is what everyone in the sport is measured by.  Tiger was on
pace to shatter Jack Nicklaus' record of major titles,(18) but now it appears, he won't
get any closer than where he is right now. (14)



For the last year and a half, Tiger has played like a weekend hacker, striking fear in
no one while getting openly mocked by the 'experts' and even other players in the game.

Many see Tiger as the old and breaking down Willie Mays, who stumbled his way
around the diamond with the New York Mets during the final stages of his career,
causing people to wonder why Mays would embarrass himself, rather than just quit
the game.

Just quit the game.

I've heard people say Tiger and Tebow should just do the same and get it over with
and save themselves the embarrassment. Yeah, that's right, just retire because the talent
is gone, and in Tigers' case, the mind has followed.

Those critics and haters never get it. Quitting is easy. When the going gets tough for
most people in the country, they just pack it in. They'd rather walk away and disappear
then endure any hardship and embarrassment.


The perseverance, determination, and mental toughness is what got Tebow and Tiger
to the top of their respective sports. Those same qualities are the things that keep them
going right now and that's a lesson for everyone, athlete or not.

Quitting is not an option.

People see Tiger and say, "He's a billionaire who never has to work in his life. He's
got all the toys and trophies, so why doesn't he just quit?"

Tiger is not wired like mere mortals and as embarrassed as he might be about his golf
game, I'm sure quitting is the last thing on his mind. Tiger may never find his game again,
but he's not folding like a tent and going home. He's embracing the struggle, working
his butt off, and still believing in himself.

That is the great lesson in all of this. This is the story that should be admired and relayed
to not only the next generation, but to everyone that's dealing with setbacks and failure.

Man, it's so very easy to quit. Anybody can do it. But once you quit, it'll be even easier
to quit during the next struggle. Anyone can quit and that's when a person's true character
is revealed. If a person quits, he'll be labeled a quitter forever.

I'm sure if Tiger and Tebow did quit and give up on the dreams and passion, those same
critics would blast them for being quitters and not being good role models for young athletes.
That's just the way it goes, doesn't it?

In this social-media driven, A.D.D world we live in, we often forget the great lessons
thrust upon us. Great moments pass before our eyes, we believe it for a minute, then
move onto something else.


Remember when Jim Valvano, a man whose body was ravaged by cancer, got up during
the ESPY's years ago and said, "Don't give up, don't ever give up." The national champion
basketball coach wasn't just speaking to cancer victims battling for their lives, but to
all the people who've dealt with failure and disappointment. Every young athlete, parent,
and most of all 'critic' should read the speech by Valvano. It's epic and one of the
greatest lessons of all.

No matter how bad things are going for Tebow and Tiger, they haven't just quit and
gone into oblivion. Tebow may never throw another pass in the NFL and Tiger could go
winless for the rest of his career, but they won't be ever labeled 'quitters.' Sure, they've
been called a lot of other things, but 'quitters' will never be one of them.

They've battled and persevered and haven't listen to any of their critics, which is a
beautiful thing.

"....The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by
dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again
and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.... who at the best
knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails,
at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and
timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
                                                                                               --Theodore Roosevelt
                                                                                            "It's not the critic who counts"