Terry Pratchett—”bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders”

I will miss the writer Terry Pratchett.

He was a master.

I came to the Pratchett game late. I don’t know what rock I lived under, but I did eventually see the light and find his work. The Discworld novels, the Tiffany Aching books, DEATH, Hogfather, the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, GOOD OMENS. It makes my head spin to consider the volume of outstanding art he produced.

He was a master.

There’s been this vision in my mind of a huge two story wall existing in some secret location which served as a Discworld storyboard. I imagine illustrations of characters, storylines, locations, and a sapient pearwood trunk—all on an octarine background floating on the back of the Great A’Tuin. Truly a piece of wall art one could spent a decade studying. Maybe someday…

Terry Pratchett died March 12, 2015 from his Alzheimer’s. His speech on his Alzheimer’s is magnificent and can be read in a past post. It is a bit depressing to think of the stories he did not get to paper. The volumes of ideas nature kept for itself and we will never see. I think a good life goal will be to read every Terry Pratchett book published. I will give it a try, I believe.

Here’s an example of Terry Pratchett’s genius. It is from his latest (and 40th) Discworld book, RAISING STEAM.

“Most of them arrived in time to see something heading out toward them, panting and steaming, with fast-spinning wheels and oscillating rods eerily appearing and disappearing in the smoke and the haze, and on top of it all, like a sort of king of smoke and fire, Dick Simnel, his face contorted with the effort of concentration. It was faintly reassuring that this something was apparently under the control of somebody human—although the more thoughtful of the onlookers might have added “So what? So’s a spoon,” and got ready to run away as the steaming, dancing, spinning, reciprocating engine cleared the barn and plunged on down the tracks laid in the field. And the bystanders, most of whom were now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except, of course, for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that one day he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes indeed. A prince of the steam! A master of the sparks! A coachman of the Thunderbolts!”

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Bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders…

Nobody can do it like Terry Pratchett did.

Rest in peace, Sir.

You will be missed.

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Finding Their Missing Somethings

“Let me tell you something, Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz was one of the great all-time leaders. She took three people that were missing something and had them look back inside themselves to find something they thought they never had. She wanted to go home, that was mission No.1, but in the end it was all about everyone else.”

I read this quote from Clint Hurdle, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, in Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Major League Baseball Preview. Not only is it a statement about what a good leader does, it is perhaps the best distillation of the very essence of The Wizard of Oz I have ever seen.

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A leader seeks their own goal by helping everyone around them find what makes them better. A coach needs to pay attention to know what each of his or her players desires or needs and work with that athlete to make them better. When the collective individual goals are met, the team goals often follow for the coach. The devil is in the details. The devil is in making every single individual who walks through your door better on a daily basis.

I saw another fitting quote in a training and conditioning magazine this past week from Coach Mark Morrison, who is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Hendrick Motorsports. On the subject of training individuals and the myriad of training philosophies/programs available, Coach Morrison said,

“At the end of the day, as long as you are developing happy, healthy, strong, lean, and agile athletes, you have done your job.”

Truth! Write this in stone and live by it. Be the coach who, like Dorothy, finds the missing somethings in your athletes. Be the coach who helps them be happy, healthy, strong, lean, and agile athletes.

You will be a happier (and more successful) coach because of it.

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Roadkill Monkey

There’s been a lot of roadkill lately. I know these things. I have maybe the calmest, quietest 42 mile commute around and I’ve been driving it for 27 years. A couple weeks ago, on one morning alone, I counted seven skunks dead on the side of the highway. Seven! It was a bad night for skunks and highways.

Today, I was in the middle of my drive eastward and I felt a little sleepier than usual. The blinding orb of the newly-risen sun was head-on square burning the retina of the poor eastbound commuter. This forced visual focus to the white highway line to my right in order fight the road glare and stay on the asphalt path.

About a quarter mile up the highway, I see a mass of misshapen, twisted, grey and brown fur lifeless in the gravel of the highway shoulder—the all-too-familiar shadow of a dead animal on the shoulder. I move closer, and, for a brief moment, I think I see a dead monkey on the side of the highway.

Swear to God.

The body was stretched and curved—the back of the furry head facing me with the front left shoulder stretched at an odd angle as if reaching to block the bright headlamps of the racing vehicle. You could sense the pain and anguish in the way the body lie there in the gravel. A roadkill monkey. In Kansas.

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As I arrive at the roadkill, the sun’s angle shifted, allowing more color and detail to be visible. It was not a monkey. It was the severely twisted body of a poor raccoon dead on the side of the road. Honestly, I felt a slight disappointment.

I drove past the “wouldn’t-that-have-been-really-wild-if-it-was-an-actual-monkey” roadkill and grabbed my coffee mug from the safety of its carrier. I had just taken a quick swig when a thought occurred to me. Sure, this was just a racoon roadkill. Ordinary. We see these dead coons almost daily in this area, along with the skunk, possum, squirrel, hawk, or the occasional deer carcass. Normal local creatures, not monkeys.

But, there are places in this world where a roadkill monkey would be the ordinary thing. In such a place, the weird animal to find smashed to smithereens on the side of a highway would be a racoon or a skunk.

Where I only see monkeys in pictures and on the screen and think of a possum or a skunk mostly as a pest, there is somebody out there somewhere who only knows a possum/skunk from a book or film. The monkey is their ordinary.

I guess it really is all about your perspective and frame of reference. Life is an adventure no matter where you are.

Roadkill monkeys.

I either found a new life goal to search out or found a new name for my future garage band.

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Rowing or Riding?

Which athlete are you? The one who rows the boat or the one who simply rides along?

I read an interesting blog post today from Seth Godin called Along for the Ride that reminded me of this aspect of team sports dynamics.

“How long have you been along for the ride? When is your turn to actually drive?”

As a player or a coach, these questions should be a constant in your development.

  • When is it your time to step up?
  • Did you miss it?
  • Did you ignore it?
  • Do you want nothing to do with it?

We are seeing an increase in younger athletes getting on the varsity sports field. Freshman, sophomores are being thrown into key team roles.  I have also noticed a trend where these same young players are thrown into the fire often don’t seem to get much better.

They are as good when they walk out the door as they were when they walked in.

These kids get put on the boat as riders and never develop into rowers.

Athletes need to eventually take the responsibility of driving the team train. Experience and leadership can’t ride the train. Experience and leadership need to be the drivers.

It’s your turn to step up.

It’s your turn to row.

Be what you are meant to be.

Out work. Out hustle. Out perform. Every day.

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Swinging For A Better Investment

It’s almost baseball season.

Doesn’t that phrase have a nice ring to it? It is music to my ears. I can almost picture the excitement of kids all across this great country as they look forward to stepping on the diamond.

As you parents and coaches get ready to outfit the young players in your life, I want you to consider a purchase that will pay off 100x greater than just about anything else you are looking to buy for baseball.

Buy a tee.

I am a firm believer every kid should have a tee AND every kid/parent/coach should have a basic idea of how to use one.

Here is a quality tee you can get for $20.

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Thinking about spending $200-$500 on a bat? STOP!

First, and foremost, be willing to spend the $20 on a tee to teach the player to hit screaming line drives regardless of the bat they hold in their hands.

It is not the equipment that catches or hits a baseball; it is the skill of the hand that holds the equipment which accomplishes great things.

Buy a tee.

Learn how to use it.

Learn how to teach with it. See my earlier blog post, Hitting Position: The Hosmer Breakdown, for more information and keep an eye open to a upcoming post about tee drill progression. (And free open hitting sessions will start soon, also.)

Buy a tee. Hang a net to hit into or drill a hole in a ball and tether it to a 15-20′ piece of clothesline rope. Hit baseballs, plastic golf balls, tennis balls, or any kind of ball you can scrounge up.

Save yourself some money. Don’t be fooled into thinking a $400 baseball bat will miraculously make you or your kids a better hitter. At the end of the day, there is only one thing that makes a better hitter—WORK and REPETITION.

Have a great preparation to Baseball 2015!

Now, go buy a tee.

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Royal Concerns

The 2014 Kansas City Royals season. I still smile when I think about the final one-third of the season. I probably always will.The first playoff appearance in 29 years, followed by a playoff roll which led to a tight  game seven loss at the hands of the greatest World Series pitching performance in MLB history by Madison Bumgarner.

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But, we are now in 2015. The MLB teams have all reported to their respective spring training sites and we are now within spitting distance of Opening Day. An exciting time, to say the least. I should be basking in the World Series afterglow and chugging glass after optimistic glass of the blue Kool-Aid.

I am not. I am not overly optimistic.

Sure, I can see the potential. The potential which drove a focused and performing group of ball players to finally live up to expectations. I can see the potential, but I am also a coach.  I can plainly see they caught lightning in a bottle for a few weeks. And in case you haven’t heard, lightning is pretty damn hard to catch, let alone catch it in a bottle. I’ve spent the last few months following news and analyzing and planning and studying this team. The final verdict is in…

I have Royal concerns.

First, as an unnamed Royals front office person said during the winter meetings that they were fully aware that for most of the 2014 season, the Royals were mediocre at best, and fairly awful at times, so they felt they needed to upgrade the roster. I don’t know if they did enough upgrades in the roster. Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios will have to immediately step in and live up to expectation to stabilize the roster. The returning players will have to follow Alex Gordon’s example and learn to be a professional from day one of camp until the final out of the year.

The second concern is both a good and bad thing. I think all but Hosmer’s contract settlement were only for one year and they’ve jumped the 100 million in payroll for next season. I like this because it shows they have a desire to be good, but it also makes this a do or die year. They make a run in 2015 and then they’ll blow this whole thing up.

My biggest concern, though, is health. Alex Gordon is coming off wrist surgery. Hopefully, it all holds up. They need him. He and Salvador Perez are the heart and soul of this organization. The bus only heads in the right direction when Alex and Salvie are driver and navigator.

Speaking of Perez, he is the one I am most worried about. Catching is a grind. It wears down the body like few other positions in baseball do. He started 143 games in 2014. Ned ran his top draft horse into the ground. It will have a long-term effect on his performance and his career. It is like the NFL running back who gets too many carries in a season and is never the same physically again, like Larry Johnson did with the Chiefs in 2006.  If Salvadore Perez breaks down in 2015, the Royals are in serious trouble.

I also have concerns about the health of the lights-out bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. They didn’t get much rest in the last 2/3 of the season. They logged a lot of innings and a lot of day after day appearances. Again, any breakdown with either of these three would hurt the Royals chances in 2015

Despite these Royal Concerns, I am excited about the 2015 season. Who am I kidding? I am excited about any baseball season. I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. Either way, I will listen and watch with the usual enthusiasm while making snarky comments on the Royals and Ned Yost’s managing on social media.

Play Ball!

 

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St. Valentine’s Day

I stink at Valentine’s Day.

Surprising revelation, huh?

100% true. Not a holiday which ranks high on my list. It ranks right there with National Pistachio Day and Polar Bear Day scratching at the hardpan ground at the bottom of the holiday ladder in my book.

Didn’t like it as a kid, not a fan as an adult.

Valentine’s Day was pure hell as a stocky, introverted sports nut from a family of 5 boys to endure in my school days. The labeling, signing, and presentation of those little cards haunted my youth and came back to bite me as a parent helping my own kids label, sign and present those little cards.

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I stink at Valentine’s Day.

I feel bad for my wife and kids.

But…

If the modern twisting of the holiday as a celebration of manufactured romance and jewelry sales were actually more a celebration of St. Valentine, it may hold more interest for me. (Check out the real St. Valentine’s story.)

St. Valentine was tough as nails. He appears to have had a confident attitude and stood strongly for his beliefs. My kind of guy.

Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius in Rome [when helping them was considered a crime], Valentinus was arrested and imprisoned. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner — until Valentinus made a strategic error: he tried to convert the Emperor — whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn’t do it, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate [circa 269].

Maybe it is time to reconsider this holiday and return to the very essence of St. Valentine himself. Make it a holiday to celebrate grit and toughness and standing up for one’s beliefs.

My kind of holiday.

In the meantime, eat some chocolate, make googly eyes, and snuggle up and overdose on the WE Network. Enjoy it while you can—change is coming.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Mike&Kelli Thanksgiving 2010

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