Baseball, Legends & Love

On Friday, June 23, I was fortunate to be among the Red Sox faithful who witnessed the retirement of David Ortiz’s uniform number. Fondly known as “Big Papi,” this larger-than-life star athlete was everything a fan could wish for: clutch player, fun-loving and through it all, remained humble and kind. David is yet another product of the Dominican Republic’s player talent pool and throughout his career, never forgot his homeland. Given my similar roots, I have always favored players from the DR, and of course, particularly those who help keep the home team atop the standings and in championship contention.

Baseball is all about patience and tradition. It takes hours to complete a nine-inning game and more than half a year to proceed from spring training through a World Series. Yet, the rewards for fans are short-lived; we get excited about a win but there’s usually another game within 24 hours. And championships certainly earn bragging rights, but again, they tend to be more impactful in that moment.

That fragile experience is exactly why players like Ortiz are special. Every time they step into the batter’s box, you anticipate a little magic. And quite often, they make the impossible happen. When they’re pushed into the limelight, they instinctually know exactly what to do. What Red Sox fan doesn’t have a mental image of Big Papi’s famous bear hugs or his emotional ballpark comments following the Boston Marathon bombing?

The David Ortiz experience came to an emotional climax last month when friends, family and fans gathered at Fenway to pay tribute to our local hero. The number 34 was ceremonially unveiled above right field, joining nine previous Red Sox and Jackie Robinson as eternal legacies. Several honored guests were invited to offer tributes including former teammates and fellow legends. The comments were festive but perhaps none more heartfelt than second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s observation that what meant most to the team was the great love Big Papi always shared with everyone in the dugout. That simple statement came just before Ortiz spoke to the crowd—and brought tears to his eyes and to those of many throughout the ballpark.

Looking back, we’re forever grateful for the many baseball memories but as every member of Red Sox Nation knows, David Ortiz will continue making us proud for many years to come. Here’s to you, #34!David-Ortiz-Number-Retirement

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What United Forgot: Customers Matter

Last week’s United Airlines debacle caught international attention for a simple reason. The airline forgot that they were dealing with a paying customer—and it could easily have been any of us. Yes, perhaps the customer was being overly stubborn about his circumstances, but something happens when we enter the air travel zone. Perhaps it’s how we’re welcomed at the airport—long lines, security check-ins and the TSA presence. Or maybe it’s that we’re all intent on reaching our destination on our timeline, so any unplanned delay becomes a crisis. And of course, airports are teeming with crowds and we all know that crowds contribute to stress in any circumstance. Together, these variables foster an undercurrent of irrational tension.

I couldn’t help but think of this when I checked into my Sheraton Hotel in Minnesota last night and noticed a small red carpet in the entryway. Having just been at the same property a few weeks ago, I questioned the look but thought they were maybe just getting creative for spring. But then placed by the television I noticed a tray of snacks—which I had not ordered—and a printed card stating that I was their VIP customer of the day. This was clearly a random welcome experience that probably cost the hotel less than $5, but boy, did it make me feel great about my stay. Through this very simple gesture, they reinforced that they understood that the customer comes first. Winning my loyalty by providing a memorable experience matters to them—and that is a powerful message.

I called the front desk to thank them for the surprise welcome, and they were happy to reinforce the card’s message. We care about your business and are glad that you’re here. Hmm….seems pretty simple. United – are you listening?

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City Winters: A Theory of Relativity

This weekend was our first encounter with a snowstorm as boomerang city dwellers. We were pleasantly reminded that it’s a more timid urban event, as places remain open and are quieter as it’s just the locals. With no windshields to scrape or driveways to shovel, we had free time. So what did we do during the storm?

Before the snow started, we headed to the Y, along with a significant percentage of the membership. (We think many are still in their New Year’s resolution mode.) By midday it was snowing pretty hard, but we went out for lunch anyway at a local cafe — and were fortunate to snag the only open table. I had scheduled a hair appointment for that afternoon, but of course, the salon was open as all the stylists live in the neighborhood. No emergency snow closings during this so-called Nor’easter!

We met extended family for dinner at a little place around the corner and thanks to the storm, we didn’t have to wait for a table and were able to linger and enjoy our meal and good company.

Oh – and how can I forget the wonderful realization that we didn’t have to fear power outages as in the city, all the power lines are buried.

So the moral of this story is that winter is a relative experience. I hadn’t appreciated that geography isn’t the most substantial variable; zip code matters and I’m liking my odds for the winter of 2017.

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First Day Predictions

By now, the internet shouting about the “new year, new me” has hopefully died down. I am an optimist by nature and pretty self-disciplined, so don’t feel obliged to start fresh just because the calendar changed. However, I do enjoy considering whether our January 1st experiences are an omen of the year ahead. How did you spend your “first day” and was there anything extraordinary that left you wondering about 2017?

For starters, I slept until 10:30 a.m. – something I haven’t done since college. And no, I can’t say we were out particularly late the prior evening. I must have needed the extra rest, so of course, I wondered if 2017 was going to be a year of catching up on needed sleep. Not a bad start!

Feeling so rested I was motivated to go out for a jog; yes, my pace is slow these days so I can’t honestly use the term “run.” Anyway, as I made my way through the city streets, I approached two still-tipsy men who I actually thought were going to trip me for a laugh. Then I realized they just wanted a fist-bump as they continued on their merry way. Hmm…does this mean 2017 will be a year for chance meetings with happy people?

Next, we decided to attend the last of the local First Night events – an organ concert at an 19th century church. We’re not religious or organ-music fans, but we do walk by this church regularly, so thought it would be a good excuse to check it out. Although I didn’t love all the music, it was entertaining to watch those in attendance, especially the little kids putting their hands over their ears whenever the music was loud (and scary?) and the elderly woman nearly tipped over as she slept through the entire concert. Could this be a foreshadowing of finding humor in unexpected places?

After the concert, we stopped by a restaurant we’ve wanted to try and found two seats at the bar. The bartender apologetically noted that the kitchen had just stopped serving brunch and was transitioning to dinner, so she couldn’t give us menus for 15 minutes. I guess this suggests “beware of bad timing.” We decided to wait it out, however, and eventually enjoyed some tasty appetizers, reminding us that patience is a virtue and that sitting at the bar is more entertaining than a table for two.

The day wound down with the last of the NFL season on our TV competing with Netflix on my tablet. Okay; so another year of multitasking – or competing priorities. My last mobile interactions of the day were texts confirming a family birthday-weekend getaway. I like to think this means we’re in for a year of celebrations.

So to sum it up – more sleep, chance meetings, unexpected humor, timing, patience, multitasking and celebration. Oh – and jogging and good food. I suspect that on December 31, I’ll confirm having lived through these experiences because they’re not particularly extraordinary. But hopefully, they’ll be enjoyable and memorable. May the New Year offer you many good times, both anticipated and unexpected!

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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

We’re approaching the end of the holiday week, with family dinners and gift exchanges already a distant memory and New Year’s Eve merriment on the horizon. A rarely mentioned highlight of this time is that for many of us, work slows down. The luckiest are off completely, either because their organizations are closed or they’ve taken vacation time. And except for retailers and others with year-end pressures, little is missed by being off this week.

I couldn’t help but think of this when hearing the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” over the past month. “Rest” opens the song and “Tidings of comfort and joy” are repeated in the refrain, which has been sung for nearly 200 years. Not a bad message.

Slowing down a bit at year end gives us the freedom to better enjoy the holidays and the people we celebrate with. Yes, I guess that’s the “tidings of comfort and joy” bit. And a little time away from our daily routine translates to some “rest.”

However you’re spending your time, wishing you rest, comfort and joy.

Happy holidays!

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The Privacy Zone

It’s ironic that being in public often encourages us to remain in our own private space.  When we ride public transportation, for example, we ignore those around us while waiting on the platform. And once aboard, we focus on our phones, listen to music or simply stare into space, always trying very hard not to make eye contact with the other passengers.

This irony recently motivated an American optimist living in London to encourage social interactions on their subway. He went as far as printing buttons and brochures proclaiming “Tube Chat” and recruited other friendly volunteers to help promote subway conversations. However, the locals were not impressed. London commuters were simply not interested and that’s the last I’ve read of his campaign.

I couldn’t help but think of his failed attempt one evening when I was riding the local subway after work. Most of us boarded the crowded train, tired from a long day and already thinking about the evening ahead. Seated directly across from me was a young woman with an incredibly happy baby girl perched on her lap. Within moments, a middle-aged man several seats down was making silly faces to engage the child. His antics were welcomed by the probably weary mother, as her daughter laughed and clapped, so she began chatting with him. Before long, nearly everyone around the baby was also making faces or smiling at her, or joining in the conversation.

So because of a cute baby, the usual quiet zone rules were disregarded. We humans are naturally social beings, but we learn to be cautious around people we see in temporary circumstances. Even though it would probably make the commute seem shorter, and who knows, maybe introduce us to a new friend or two, as the American in London learned firsthand, our nature is to be private in public.

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#FlytheW – Even if You’re Not From Chicago

What happened in 1908? As we all know, it was the last time the Chicago Cubs earned a World Series victory.  But did you also know it was also the year “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – or baseball’s unofficial anthem – was written? Yes, these two significant baseball events share an anniversary that has withstood the test of time.

Of course, this year, Cubs fans everywhere hope to override that fact. Tonight the Chicago Cubs made history by hosting the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. They last took home the big prize with back-to-back victories in 1907 and 1908. Needless to say, the city has come to a standstill to savor this moment. As a Boston Red Sox fan, I totally get it – we waited 86 years for a World Series win and the excitement of that post-season was incomparable to any sporting experience I’ve ever had. Even though my team got bounced early this year, I’m very happy for Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.

I’ve been to Wrigley Field once, for a Sunday afternoon game in May 2015, and it’s as charming and iconic as you’d imagine. From the bar scene in Wrigleyville to the coveted bleacher seats atop the brownstones that ring the field, it’s a very special place. This weekend I’m confident getting close to that area has been impossible, except for those fortunate enough to score tickets or a bar stool. Yet, I’m also confident that the same electric ambiance is being felt all throughout Chicago – in bars, homes and streets everywhere.

While sports loyalties run deep, every once in a while, I think it’s okay to “root, root, root for another team” because they’ve demonstrated they deserve a chance to bring it home. With 103 wins this year, the Cubs eclipsed every other team in both leagues. 108 years is a lot longer than our 86; I hope 2016 is the Cubbies’ year. Of course, if 2017 is the Red Sox!

#FlytheW