Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Summer Solstice Potpourri – Random Rhino Thoughts

I have several books that I am partway through reading, and they will be reviewed in the next week, but today I have no book reviews to share. I did read some light and fluffy novels last week that are not worthy of taking the time to share with you, and not worthy of recommending – not even for “beach reading.” So, this morning, I share a few random thoughts and observations that are not connected in any way except that they reflect my life over the past few days.

Hot weather has finally found its way to Boston, and it feels glorious! Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and it finally feels like the weather has decided to behave seasonally. It was a gorgeous evening at Fenway Park last night as the Red Sox entertained for the first time the Washington Nationals in inter-league play. Former Washington Senator and Red Sox legend, Mickey Vernon, threw out the first pitch. It was a nice way of connecting the baseball histories of Boston and our nation’s capital.

Sitting in Section 20 last night, I was at the nexus of several fascinating groups of fans. Here are some random happenings that I observed during the course of the Red Sox 6-3 victory over the Nationals:

There was a group of enthusiastic baseball fans sitting behind me that had traveled from Columbus, Ohio to experience Fenway Park for the first time. They were making the rounds of several East Coast ballparks, including Yankee Stadium and Fenway. They were knowledgeable fans who often attend games in Cincinnati. They commented on the enthusiasm of the Fenway crowd, and the decibels produced by 36,000 people singing Neil Diamond’s cheesy “Sweet Caroline" – a Fenway 8th inning tradition! Here is a memorable quotation from the vociferous leader of the group: “Even in a 7th game of the World Series, Reds fans would not make this much noise. This is a great environment!”

Also sitting behind me was a young woman – a B.C. grad who works as a realtor in Boston’s Back Bay. Her knowledge of baseball and the Red Sox was encyclopedic. She was sitting with a group of people who were also making their first pilgrimage to Fenway, and her ability to explain the intricacies of the game to them was wonderful to hear. I was impressed.

Among the fans in my section was a teenager who was wearing “Red Sox braces”! I don’t know the technical orthodontic terminology to describe the appliance, but the portion of the braces that applies pressure to the front of the incisors spelled out “R-E-D-S-O-X”! Really!

It was the best of Manny; it was the worst of Manny. The Red Sox storied left fielder, Manny Ramirez, is renowned for having frequent mental lapses in the field, and also for being one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history. We have learned to take the bad with the good. Last night’s game was a fitting Manny microcosm. In the 8th inning, he launched a moon shot over the Green Monster – the 453rd homerun of his major league career, moving him past Yaz on the all-time list. But, earlier in the game, the absent-minded slugger (“Manny being Manny”!) was on deck, and he failed to tell second baseman Mark Loretta to slide has he barreled towards home plate with the throw coming in from centerfield. In a bang-bang play, Loretta was tagged out – and a sorely needed insurance run did not score – because Manny did not have his head in the game and failed to execute baseball fundamentals.

Gabe Kapler returned to Fenway Park for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon last season. The injury is often a career-ending one, so there was no guarantee that Kapler would ever play again. The two standing ovations that Kapler received were heart-warming and rare for a utility player. This morning’s Boston Globe quote’s Kapler on the reception that Sox fans gave him last night:

"'We have the best, and, to be more specific, the classiest fans in all of sports,' said Kapler, who took Trot Nixon's spot in right field and batted eighth against the Nationals last night. 'And the reason I say that is because they recognize and care about hard work as well as people, human beings. Contributions [from players] other than superstars. They recognize every player on the roster.

They recognize contributions from guys like Alex Cora, and, in the past, from a pitcher who would get one out. They always seem to recognize effort. I'm just blown away by their consistency and their knowledge of the game.'"

I have had the opportunity on several occasions to have conversations with Kapler, and I find him to be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and articulate professional athletes I have known. It was thrilling to see his triumphant return last night, as he went 2 for 4, scored a run and knocked in a run.

* * * *

I am notorious among my friends and family for knowing more people “than the average bear,” and also for having unusual encounters with strangers and long-lost friends in distant places. For example, last January, I ended up in line at the airport in Budapest in front of a friend from New Hampshire I had not seen in almost 10 years: “Al, is that you?” A few years earlier, as I was hustling down a street in London, a bus stopped for a traffic light, one of the windows flew open, and the familiar face of an old college friend emerged and yelled: “Al Chase, what are you doing here?” Even by my standards, the encounter I will relay below was unusual, and I file it under “miracle.”

I was riding on the subway in NYC last Thursday afternoon. I was in Manhattan for some meetings, and had left a luncheon meeting with a bunch of friends and business colleagues. We were all heading from the Village to Midtown, and decided to head to the subway to catch the Uptown #1 train. Everyone else in the group lives in NYC and had a monthly pass, so they zipped through the turnstiles. I had to use the machine to buy a pass, and while I was buying my pass, a train arrived. I told my friends to go ahead without me - that I would catch the next train. So, when the next train arrived, I found an empty seat near the door and started reading the book I was carrying. When we stopped at the next station, I kept reading, but noticed that someone had sat down two seats away from me and was staring directly at me. I looked up and smiled, and returned to reading my book. I could see in my peripheral vision that the person was continuing to stare, and was leaning towards me. I looked up again and smiled and he looked long and hard into my eyes and said: "Don't you know who I am?"

My response was to gasp: "Oh, my God! I can't believe it."

It was my friend, M. S., a former protégé whom I had last seen about eight years ago in New Hampshire. I had mentored him while he was in college, and saw him through some academic ups and downs, as well as some pretty volatile relationships with girlfriends. He eventually got his act together and married a really sweet gal from Atlanta. I flew to Atlanta to officiate at the ceremony.

When I left New Hampshire to move to Boston, I lost track of M. S., and learned that he had moved away, and no one knew how to find him. I often thought of him, and just a week ago had wondered to myself: "Will I ever see M. S. again? I wonder where he is and how he is doing."

In our quick subway ride and subsequent conversation at Lincoln Center, I learned that since we last saw each other, he has gone through a divorce, and that life has had its share of difficult challenges, but he has things back on track and is the CEO of a software company in Manhattan.

It is clear to me that God worked things out for S.M. and me to be in the same section of the same car on the same subway train at the same time - against astronomical odds - so that we could reconnect and renew our friendship. What an amazing early Fathers' Day gift that turned out to be.

In a subsequent e-mail, S.M. alluded to the classic Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca when he wrote: "Of all the subway cars in the world..."!

Indeed! God’s fingerprints were all over that encounter!

Keep your eyes open today for evidence of His fingerprints on the events of your life today.


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