Friday, August 24, 2012

Team, Spirit

We are the Champions...again.

Here's a little secret: the last blog post was about me. Crazy, right? I know, but it's true. For the past three years, my friends and I have formed a kickball team for the New Britain Parks and Rec Adult Kickball League. The first year, as The MotorboatingPongingBloggers, we dominated the regular season and were the heavy favorites to win the championship. Unfortunately, we faltered in the first round of the playoffs.

The next season we came back as Captain Littlejohn and The BigFoots with a renewed focus on friendship and fun. We lost several games in the regular season, but we were enjoying ourselves more than any other team in the league, and more than we had during the first season. We entered the playoffs with no hopes or expectations and we left with a championship trophy.

This year, as the defending champs and newly titled C.H.A.M.P.S. (Can't Hate a Motherf*ckin' Pimp Squad) we remained focused on friendship and fun. We realized that was the only route to success. It's not about the trophy or the town-wide respect; those things are simply byproducts of friendship and teamwork.

The legendary game from my previous blog was our last regular season game. Victory in that game assured us a bye in the first round of the playoffs. 

On Tuesday evening, we handily beat both of our opponents, only allowing one run in two games. Our defense remained impeccable and our offense was showing signs of greatness.

The championship series (best of 3) was held on Wednesday. It was a rematch of the instant classic from last week. Both teams were anxious to face each other again. Parks and Rec broke the bank and brought a PA system to introduce the teams and play the national anthem. In a typical act of camaraderie, the C.H.A.M.P.S. declined the individual introductions and came out as a team. One unit. One family. One goal.

There was something about this day from the start. We had celebrated our victories in the playoffs the night before, so the morning was a little rough. After I turned my phone's alarm off, I wasn't ready to get out of bed, so I checked facebook. The first quote I saw was from a rapper I follow: "I know today will be great because I will make it that way." It was a powerful sentiment to begin the day. 

Once I finally got out of bed and arrived at work, I got some good news from my boss. I was trying not to view every thing that happened as some kind of sign of things to come, but when the signs are all positive, it's hard not to find a connection. 

For lunch I had fried rice and chicken from the Thai place in New Britain. I felt like I had already won the championship. I had definitely won lunchtime.

After lunch I checked facebook again. I'm not just friends with famous rappers, I also allow my family to become friends with me on facebook (I'm just generous like that). I saw two posts, one from my aunt and one from my cousin, that stopped me in my tracks. This day was the 6 year anniversary of my grandmother's (my father's mother) passing. Six years to the day. 

In my mind, I was transported back in time. I was at UConn Health Center in a hospital room with my family, surrounding my grandmother, lovingly nicknamed E-Mommy (Two-Mama to some). She was lying in bed with tubes down her nose and throat. For the first time in my life, I saw my very independent grandmother unable to speak or do anything on her own. It was heart-wrenching. She was 95 (96?) and I had come to grips with the fact that she would die soon, but I could never have prepared myself to see her suffer. More than any physical pain, I knew it had to eat her up to be unable to care for herself, and especially to be unable to talk. She may have had horrible hearing for the last decade of her life, but she had no problem talking. The tube in her mouth must have been torture. 

After saying hello to E-Mommy, my family and I made small talk (something I've never been good at). Something about death and discomfort causes people to talk passionately about their favorite tv shows or some other inane, irrelevant topic. 

I didn't do much talking. I mostly looked at my grandmother, lying in bed. This was where we would all eventually end up. No matter how we lived our lives, no matter how many achievements and accomplishments, no matter how many or how few friends we've made, no matter how much money we make, no matter what our political views are, all of our stories end the same way. As my family talked, I kept looking into her eyes. I didn't know what to say. Anything I could have said would have been trite. I never know what to say to people at funerals, never mind what to say to a dying person. But as I looked into her eyes and she looked back, I felt like we were communicating more powerfully than ever before. She wasn't talking to me in my mind like Professor X, there was just a feeling, a connection that felt very powerful. I could tell she wanted to talk (as usual) and I felt like I knew exactly what she was saying. It was crazy, but I almost felt like her life flashed before my eyes.  

There was no fear in her eyes, except for maybe the fear that I wouldn't understand what she was trying to say. I felt her strong desire to speak, to at least say goodbye, and I wanted to rip the tube out to hear her voice one last time.

Instead I took her hand and kept looking in her eyes. I felt her wisdom, her empathy, her passion for life flowing through me.  Powerful thoughts floated around my mind: "Take time to appreciate your life. Love your friends and family. Live for the moment, with an eye on the future."

Maybe it was just standard, even cliche, life advice flashing through my brain, but in that moment, those cliches became truth in my mind. Looking in her eyes, I felt the urgency of life. I felt her desire to live just a little bit longer, even though she had don so much in her life. I felt her pleading with her eyes, "Don't wait for life to happen, live it." Enjoy the moments with your friends and family because you never know how long you, or they, have in this world.

I left the room and joined my family for lunch. My grandmother died soon after, having lived a long, glorious life. Along with my mother's mother (who also lived into her 90's) she left an indelible impression on me. I can only hope to live up to the example she set.

Since her passing, I have tried to live by the lessons she imparted to me (or the lessons I felt like she was trying to tell me). Most importantly, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for my friends and family, and I have tried my best to live in the moment. Luckily, I have friends who live by the same premises. The C.H.A.M.P.S. in particular, play by the creed "have more fun than our competitor's and we will win." Maybe we won't come out on top, but we will still win. We wanted to win each game, but that was always secondary to the joy we took in playing together and the love we showed each other.

Some may say that Adult Kickball is a silly concept, that adults can and should find better ways to spend their time. Although I agree that a kickball championship should not be your only aspiration in life, I would venture to say that more people need to spend some time running around in the dirt and kicking rubber balls with their friends. Science tells us that "play" is one of the best means for learning in a child, and I would add that the same goes for adults. Team sports in particular offer all participants numerous opportunities to learn and grow as a person. At the very least, playing a sport is great stress relief. 

So with our team pride and overall joy on full display, and with the thought of my grandmother at the forefront of my mind, C.H.A.M.P.S. took the field on Wednesday night. 

The first game was a nail-biter. The 7th inning came and went, and we headed to extra innings tied 0-0. In no time, it was the bottom of the 9th, and neither team looked like they would be able to break the tie. Our mid-2nd baseman Abby strode to the plate. She kicked a hard grounder to third base. The somewhat over-confident third baseman rushed the throw and the ball sailed past the first baseman. Abby ran to second base.

The imposing Chief Peterson stepped up to the plate. There were less than 2 outs, so we knew that a couple well-placed kicks could seal a victory. 

All it took was one kick. Chief sailed it over the second baseman's head and Abby took off. She rounded third, didn't even fall on her face, and scored the winning run.

We congratulated each other, but kept the celebration to a minimum. 

One win down, one to go. 

In truth, whether or not we won the next game was truly irrelevant; we had created something with our team that was truly special. Our exuberance and our friendship had transcended the game and had even infected the crowd gathered to watch the game. It's hard not to root for a team that cheers everyone on constantly and forms an (almost) never-ending loop of high-fives on the sideline after every inning. We had created something long-lasting, something that would live beyond the plastic trophies and the plaques hanging up in Town Hall; we had created an unbreakable bond with each other.

We were the visiting team for the second game. It started off slow once again. Early in the game, we took the lead after our star short-stop Dizzle sped his way from first base to home on a fly ball.

Our defense remained perfect and we scored a few more times soon after the first run. With Captain Littlejohn on the mound, we knew the other team had no chance. He hadn't given up a run in two games and when all was said and done, he only gave up one run in 30 playoff innings.

As the final out was made, the team ran towards the pitcher's mound, high-fives flying everywhere. After a quick celebration, we made our way to home plate to shake the other team's hands. They played hard and we had a lot of respect for them.

After the hand shakes, the celebration resumed. We had defended our championship, using our friendship as an unstoppable force. We may not have had the most talent in the league, but we had the most love.

It was a joyous night, one that will not soon be forgotten. As we gathered together and raised our kickball trophies in the air, my thoughts returned to my grandmother. I couldn't help but imagine E-Mommy smiling down on me, knowing that I was living by the lessons she passed on to me.

I love you E-Mommy.

I love you C.H.A.M.P.S.


I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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