Monday, June 29, 2009

Magic Always Happens at the Ballpark

It's never easy to go back to the office after a weekend off. For one, I have too much fun. When 5 p.m. rolls around on Sunday on a weekend off, I am reminded that in a few hours I'll have to go back to the grind.

On this Monday, though, I was the beneficiary of quite a treat. I enjoyed seats 14 rows up from home plate for the beginning of the series against the Angels of Anaheim of Los Angeles of California, or whatever.

The Rangers did not hold up their end of the deal, in spite of back-to-back HRs early. But, just as I was beginning to get distracted, here comes a kid -- and MVP -- walking down the stairs in my section.

Tom Mendonca played third base for the Fresno State Bulldogs in 2008. We saw this man protect that part of the diamond like no other. We saw this guy propel his team to victory and an MVP berth like few others, and here he was prancing down the stairs with souvenirs. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the second round, 62nd pick overall in 2009.

My first order of business was securing a Sharpie. I raced to the ushers, beer salesmen -- nothing. To the pro shop. Sharpie? Yes! For $3. Wow, but had to do it. I'll save this Sharpie the rest of my life.

I also secured a $3 folder of some sort for the MVP to sign. So, after buying the most expensive school supplies known to man, I took a shot.

Mendonca was sitting two rows in front of me, right behind home plate. I weaseled my way down and wrote on the most expensive folder I have ever bought:

"Saw you win the CWS in 2008. You were our hero! Welcome to Arlington!"

He turned and gave a big smile. "Thank you, Tom Mendonca," he signed.

No one else in the seats recognized this kid except me. After I reached for his autograph and took his picture, several girls asked, "Who is he?" I told them the story.

I told them he was part of the team who won the CWS as the lowest seeded team in CWS history. I told them he was chosen to play in the USA National Team for the latest Olympics.

Cheers to all true baseball fans and Tom, who I hope will make the roster very soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Little Town That Could

The first time I stepped onto the campus of Socorro High School was one hot, dry day in August of 1987. Just a few months before, over the intercom at Escontrias Middle School, the principal had announced those invited to freshman camp at the high school, which included yours truly. I was one of a handful from my middle school, who would try out for the freshman team.

We met in a portable, immediately south of the old Socorro stadium, which still stands today. There were close to 100 hopeful players, of which only half or so would be selected. To my right was a guy named Arturo Lopez, to my left Aaron Sierra. Little did I know then that those two guys would merit district, city and state honors four years later as members of a varsity team, which created history.

Socorro is a town 19 miles east of El Paso, just outside TX 375 Loop. In my day, Socorro was basically one big cotton farm. Acres upon acres of cotton filled the dessert land, land which we used plenty of times for late-night high school gatherings of sorts. There was one high school then, Socorro High School, and during my middle school years, a grand renovation of the school began in earnest. Such was the construction that many high schoolers had to walk to my school -- Escontrias Middle -- for lunch! Their cafeteria was not in operation. Also, district boundaries forced construction of a new high school -- Montwood -- north of us for the exploding population.

Most of Socorro's residents were families of hard labor. Most families bought large parcels of land and built solid homes one cinder block at a time, many beginning with mobile homes. We had a few military families residing north of I-10 (eventually relocated to Montwood) in the new area for the district. Nevertheless, as simple as life was for us in Socorro, the grand renovation of our beloved high school and the booming population east of El Paso brought magic.

The core group of players joined that hot August day stayed for four years. Some made the varsity squad early as sophomores; others as juniors. By the time we came together as seniors for two-a-days in August of 1990, I could feel something special was about to happen. And, it did. With a win over Riverside High School that Fall as the last game of the regular season, that varsity team took Socorro's football program to the playoffs for the first time in the school's history. Many other appearances followed, deeper each time. Tradition in little Socorro had begun.

But, as historic and as proud as I am to tell that story over and over, nothing compares to what was happening to the Socorro baseball team, one pitch at at time -- even back then. Peruse, if you will, what Socorro baseball has done since my time in 198o's:,_Texas)#Athletics.

Coach Chris Forbes was my linebacker's coach in high school. I'm not sure if he still has any participation in football, but back then, he was the man. He was a little younger, but the mustache and his calm, but determined disposition was the same as the one I witnessed on Saturday, June 13, at Dell Diamond.

Looking back, we were always close. Hardcore fans tell you sports are events of inches, seconds, and last minute heroics. What we live for are moments like this, when all that hard work pays off in a big way.

When the game versus Austin Westlake was in the books on Friday, June12, Socorro had already made history. They had made the final four for the first time, and won. They had advanced to the biggest game in the league: UIL Class 5A Texas State High School Baseball Championship Game.

We were at my brother's house in El Paso, after attending a very difficult funeral for a very young member of our family. The play-by-play over the radio waves boosted our morale a bit, and when the game was over and Socorro conquered, we looked at each other and almost all in unison said, "LET'S GO TO AUSTIN!" And, we did.

After packing and finding a rental car suitable for the total group of 16 travelers, we left El Paso that Friday at 11:10 p.m. Mountain, 12:10 a.m. Central. We had less than twelve hours to get to Dell Diamond, in Austin, to see history.

Like Coach Forbes said later, I had a dream as well. I envisioned us in the stadium with a sign, which read, "Drove all night to see this." I had visions of seeing many of my fellow alums, coaches and faculty members. And, I had true visions of watching those boys carry that trophy back to Socorro for the first time -- ever. All this while enjoying the moment with many family, who were troopers under my Nazi-like leadership of getting us there.

We sat in our seats precisely as the bottom half of the second inning was about to start. We had no sleep, famished and probably dehydrated. I felt bad for the ladies in our group, as they certainly put up with a lot to be there. Nevertheless, the magic began and all things painful faded away like a bad memory. The bats came alive.

After a grand slam by Corey Falvey, the dream came that much closer. The Bulldogs led by as many as 12-4. And, though Lufkin made a late game rally to come within 5, the final score was 12-7 Socorro.

For the first time ever in Socorro's history, and only the second time in the city's history, we had a state champion.

Commenting with my fellow alums after in the concourse, we all agreed the ghosts of the past flashed by. All the "almosts," were erased. A cumulative effort by all previous athletes, who graced the halls of that school, came to fruition with that pop fly in shallow center field.

It goes without saying that Coach Forbes and this 2009 championship squad will never be forgotten.

It is a memory we will take with us to our graves. It is a moment, which will live eternally.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Requiescat in pace, Abraham.

The last vivid memory I have of Abraham was a couple of years back, when he and his dad, Tavo, visited us here in Arlington during the summer. Abraham was on the eve of his senior year in high school, and one very vivid moment continues to loop in my mind.

The Guevara brothers, Abraham, and his oldest and only brother, Germain, took to wrestling in high school. They were both well suited for said sport. Short, but genetically gifted in musculature, both brothers accomplished great feats at Socorro, on the wrestling team. His room was adorned with the decorations earned during competition, including commencement from Socorro High School last May, 2008.

Abraham, more than once during his visit here, would awake to purposeful jogs at my home. I remember clearly opening the door one morning, as I was headed to the office, and no sooner had I done that than he sprinted out in full stride. I thought, "Wow. To be 17 again and able to run like that without warming up!"

The picture here is of his pre-K graduation in El Paso, many years ago.

He would say, "Tio (uncle), I'm going for a run. I have to keep in shape for wrestling." "Fine with me," I thought. Except instead of running around our cul-de-sac as I do (It's pretty big), his gait carried him quickly out of our street and my sight! I'm pretty anxious when it comes to childcare. And, while I know he was no child even then, I still reported that to his still-sleeping dad. He mustered a whisper and said, "He'll be fine. When he's done, he'll come right back." With that, I left for work.

That was the last time we spent real time with him. We would see him again briefly at great-grandpa's funeral last year (2008), but the "straw..." was when he phoned us Thursday to announce he was a brand new uncle, for his oldest and only brother had just seen a son born to this life. He was beside himself with excitement, to be in such a honorable position. An uncle...

Those were his last words to us. Early Saturday morning we received that fateful call so many do. Abraham had died at home. A history of epilepsy -- we fear -- got the best of him. A medical examiner's report will say for sure.

What is certain is that our lives have been changed forever. Our little wrestler, brand new uncle and only brother has now departed us. To tell his grandparents was the hardest thing we have had to do in recent memory. The are devastated, exclaiming, "Why wasn't it me!!!!"

Over and over our family motto (Najera family and its extended members, such as the Guevara family) has been to carpe diem, seize the day. We literally waste ourselves maximizing each moment, remembering it may be the last. How could Abraham have known he would only see his nephew once?

We are numb, stunned and deeply saddened by this.

Please, remember to seize the day for you and yours.

Abraham's tentative funeral arrangements are a prayer service Tuesday evening, June 9, 2009, in the chapel of Sunset Funeral Home Americas (9521 North Loop, El Paso, Texas 79907, 915-858-4408, A graveside will follow on Wednesday morning, June 10, 2009 at Restlawn Memorial Park in El Paso.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

$3 Signing Bonus

**The author of the following tale is a good friend, who amongst other things, is a fellow wordsmith of sorts. He and I have had long chats about the probabilities of re-living The Feeling during Digger Bowl IV, an unforgettable event. What is Digger Bowl IV? I'll be happy to tell you, for sure.

Anyway, because life carries us in many directions, the miracle of communication is an occassion like this -- being able to share everyday moments with friends in distant lands via venues like this blog. Like us, the man we call The Teenager From Mars, Mark Bedell, had a memory-lasting event with dad -- his. Cool drinks and fellowship make moments like this carry you through days and days.

Mr. Bedell was kind enough to pen his memory, the one true way to ensure it can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Cheers, TFM.

What does it mean to be a pro? What makes you a "professional?" Indulge me while I explore a little. My current "profession" sees me commuting three hours a day in each direction from my home in New Jersey to New York City, which I utterly despise -- not the job -- the city. It's a dump. It's not like you seee on TV shows, such as Friends.
I'm an educator. I teach grown people how to do their jobs. At times it's rewarding. And, other than having to be in that city, I enjoy my profession very much. There are friends who may read this that can attest to one thing, too: I'm the best there is at what I do. The gig pays the bills, albeit barely.But, is that all it is to be a professional? I chose not be believe so, otherwise I might just fade away enroute to that awful city... lost in thought.
What is my point, already!?!? Allow me to share.
The first time I got paid to play music, I was 15 years old. Add up the digits in that number and you get more than the dollar figure I took home. I've been paid similar amounts and far more over the years on many occasions. I played. I got paid. I'm a professional musician. Truthfully, I'm better at that than anything else I have ever done in my life. I still rule. ;)
Over the years I have been paid to be in pictures and videos. I have been paid to photograph people. That makes me a professional model, actor, and photographer. I've gotten a cut for booking bands and models. I'm a professional agent and manager.
I've won prize money with my beloved former bowling team, from which I take my UFL franchise name, which came from a song by my favorite band. I'm a professional bowler. Heck, I've even got official sanctioned awards for that. But...There is a recent story that I would like to share. This is how I became a professional golfer…
It was a sunny Saturday morning. I stood waiting for my group to tee off. We were second. The foursomes were randomly selected. Coincidentally, my old man was with group one. He led off. I was nervous for him. When his swing is on, he's got a great tee shot. But, when he's not on his game (usually from a sore shoulder) his tee shots go on about a 45-degree angle to the right. This would have put him dead in the woods here. His shoulder must have felt good, because he put the tee shot on this short Par-3 on the green, about 4 feet from the pin. I was overjoyed for him. I knew he'd have a good round. It was the first shot of the day, and we were already joking that he would win the prize for a Closest To The Pin shot. Incidentally, he drained shot number to for a nice birdie. Tweet Tweet. Way to go old man!
The pressure was on as I led off for my group. My practice shot was gorgeous, as I prepared to beat my own dad for the closest to the pin at this early juncture. I lined up and took a breath. Whoosh. I hit the ball about twenty feet, skimming across the top of the grass. Ouch. Embarrassment in my first tee shot in a tourney. Closest To The Pin would not be mine this day. But, I wasn't done -- yet. I made par.My tee shots were dead on the rest of the round.
On number eight I sank a twelve-foot putt, with a big break in the green. Under pressure, I hit the best putt of my life. On the final hole, I had an equally long putt for birdie, which would have put me at one under par for the round. I pulled back, and made the perfect "pendulum" swing. The ball came to rest no more than two inches to the left of the cup. I tapped it in for a par. I finished even. It was my best round ever.
I waited and watched at the first tee for hours after I finished. It was fun seeing what others did. A woman who was easily in her 60's hit the pin on her tee shot. It was pretty to watch. She won closest to the pin for the women.
The round came to an end after a gorgeous Jersey Shore day of golf and fellowship. We saw the final score two days later, posted in the clubhouse. The old man pulled it off. The first tee shot of the day won him the prize for Closest To The Pin. In the standings, it was like poetry. We tied for third. :)We each took home a whopping THREE DOLLARS for that third place finish. He got an additional $4.00 for achieving closest to the pin.And, my friends, just like that... we're professional golfers. Oh what a feeling.