Monday, May 13, 2013

I Wish That Pitch Would Hit Flo Square in the Face

I sometimes think about how much time seemingly miniscule moments in our lives actually take up.  I'm not talking in terms of daily or weekly, but more in a way of compounding things over the course of a lifetime.  For example, let's say the average person spends 15 minutes commuting to and from work on a daily basis, or half an hour per day.  During any given workweek, the average person spends 2.5 hours just driving to and from work.  And over the course of a year, not counting two weeks of vacation, the average person spends 125 hours driving to and from work.  When you think about it, that doesn't really seem all that overwhelming.

But, when you begin to look at it in larger terms, it is much more difficult to wrap your head around it.  Let's say the average person spends 125 hours driving to and from work every year, and the average person works for 35 years.  Given those scenarios, the average person would spend 4,375 hours commuting to and from work, or just about 6 months of a lifetime.  And that's for a very conservative estimate.  When you look at it like that...It's a lot of wasted time.

We don't realize it as it is happening, and probably wouldn't even notice if we were fully aware, but our life seems to be filled with hundreds of thousands of wasted minutes and seconds.  I don't mean to be depressing, and I promise I am going somewhere with this, so just bear with me.

Think about commercials.  Actual research shows that the average American watches 4.5 hours of television every day.  For every 60 minutes of air time, there are roughly 15 minutes of advertisements, and that's assuming you keep the television parked on one channel the entire time.  So, if the average person views roughly 25,000 minutes worth of commercials every single year, it comes out to more than 17 days!  Imagine what we could do with that much extra time.

And of those 25,000 minutes of ads, 99.9% of them are complete and utter wastes of time.  Many of them irritate me to the point of genuine anger, and the .1% that is actually mildly entertaining offer only the most simplistic amusement.  They are completely pointless and waste my time.  At least most of them.

But one commercial I recently viewed literally made me sit down and think about it's artistic merit.  It made me reminisce.  It made me smile.  It made me feel.  We've grown so accustomed to commercials, that we essentially have become numb to them (see the stats above).  But every once in a while, one comes along and truly has a profound effect.

The spot opens abruptly with a batter swinging and missing a fastball.  We find ourselves immersed in the midst of a tightly-contested baseball game.  A night game.  The shot twirls behind the catcher and umpire, in one take, and we see the field spread out before us like the ocean at sunrise.  There is a light fog, like when the high temperature of a hot day begins plummeting with the setting sun, emanating from the ground, and when mixed with the pale lighting, it creates an ethereal glow.

The shot pans around the diamond, stopping for a few seconds at third, then left field, then shortstop, then center, picking up the familiar sounds of encouraging chatter mixed with strategic jargon.  "Back!" A base coach says, as the third baseman feints towards the runner at third.  "No doubles, no doubles," the shortstop says as he signals his outfielders.  The camera finally settles on the pitcher, who fires a quick throw to first in a failed pickoff attempt.  As the ball is returned, the second baseman and shortstop communicate, "Hey, let's roll it up here," and the second baseman hides his mouth with his glove, short mimicking back to him.  This is to communicate who covers second in the event the runner at first steals...A closed mouth means "I have the bag."  An open mouth means, "You have the bag."  In most cases, the fielder to the opposite field of the batter covers, but infielders have the discretion to change things up.  To the average observer, this fundamental communication goes unnoticed, and the fact a moment like that is caught, in a commercial, is simple perfection.

The camera finally spins back, and we find ourselves behind the pitcher, as he peers in toward his catcher.  He gets the sign he wants, nods in agreement and slowly comes set.  By this time, the rising volume of horns in the background has added an even deeper level of tension and anticipation, as we await the pitcher's delivery.  The camera pans around to the front, with a close-up view of the pitcher.  You can see the concentration in his face, feel the heaviness of the moment.  You see his eyes glance, ever-so-quickly, for one last check on the runner at first.  He locks back in on his target, and delivers, with an emphatic grunt.

But, we don't see what happens.  The screen cuts to black, and the words "Every pitch, every inning, every game, every season" flash, followed by the Dick's Sporting Goods logo.

As a baseball fan, and someone that grew up playing the game, there is a certain level of perfection to be found in that 60-second spot.  To anyone who doesn't play the game, and just enjoys it from the stands or their living room couch, most of those moments fade into obscurity within seconds, if they're ever noticed at all.  But, the beauty of it is that those actions are almost second-nature to any baseball player, and occur dozens of times every game.

I love how the entire 60 seconds is filmed in one continuous shot.  There are no discernible cuts, no flashy special effects.  No ridiculous jingles, or upcoming sale advertisement...Just the raw, unfiltered emotion that, as a player, you feel in those tense moments late in a close game.

That's what was so powerful for me.  It harkened back to countless spring and summer nights on the baseball field, where I learned what it takes to win.  I learned the self-discipline and drive it takes to be successful, at baseball or anything else.  I learned how it feels to strike out on a full count with the bases loaded and the tying run standing on third base.  I learned how to lose, and how to use those losses to improve.  "You got all that from a stupid commercial?" You might ask.  Yes...Yes I did.

So, while the vast majority of commercials do little more than piss me off (here's looking at you Flo), this one made me appreciate so many little things that I took for granted growing up.  It brought back emotions that I had almost forgotten.  And it did it all without really trying to sell me anything.  Now, that is a commercial I can appreciate.

If you haven't seen it, here's the commercial I am talking about:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tracy Lawrence Knows a Thing or Two

May has always been one of my favorite months of the year.  The weather (usually) begins to warm to the point where you can really tell that summer is just around the corner.  Baseball season is in full swing, it marks the end of the school year, and the beginning of boating season.  Memorial Day is my second-favorite holiday, and is always a great way to kick off a summer full of cookouts and sunburns.  With blooming flowers dotting the landscape, and the deepening green of grass and trees, everything feels brand new.  Perhaps that is why my affinity for May is so strong: it is about new beginnings.  And in any situation where one thing ends and another begins (whether it's a season, the school year, or anything else), it is impossible not to look back and reflect on the events that just passed.

This time of year has always been a time for me to reflect on the year that was, and to look ahead toward the months to come.  When I was a student, I always looked forward to the summer ahead, that fun that would be had, and the trouble in which my friends and I would invariably find ourselves.  But, I'd also look back on the hundreds of memories we made in the school year we were leaving behind.  And, with each passing year, the time only added more memories and more responsibility, which made the longing for those "easier times" all the more intense.

Despite the fact I'm all grown up now, I still find myself doing the same thing I did in those days.  Perhaps it's the fact I'm a teacher now, so the month still marks the end of a school year.  Or maybe it's the fact that old habits die hard, and I just can't seem to shake that part of me, no matter how far removed I find myself from it.  In any event, I sit here now, looking back on the last 10 or 11 months, and am completely blown away at how markedly different things are now than they were last summer.

The elephant in the room, obviously, was my marrying Adrienne.  If there were ever a life-changing event, that's it, and I look back on that day with so much joy that, even seven months later, I can still feel my heart pounding with excitement.  It didn't take long to figure out I was going to marry Adrienne, but it was still an enormous change for the both of us.  An incredible and amazing change, but change nonetheless.  Regardless of how prepared for it you think you may be, the moment you say "I do," the life you had even earlier that morning is no longer the life you have afterward.  But, it is the best feeling in the world.

My best friend DJ and his wife Amanda gave birth to a beautiful baby boy just a few weeks ago.  Although the reality of it likely won't sink in until I finally meet the little guy, it's still really heavy to think about.  Not long after Adrienne and I moved into our place in Mt. Sterling, DJ and Amanda came to visit.  The last thing on any of our minds was a baby, in either case, and we spent the night playing cards and staying up entirely too late.  Just a couple of weeks later, at my bachelor party, DJ and I were lying in bed trying to get some semblance of rest before a long day on the lake, when he dropped this bomb on me.

"You still awake?" He said.
"Yeah...What's up?" I asked, expecting a funny story from earlier in the night that I might have missed, or, perhaps, a recent change at his job of which I had been unaware.
"Amanda's pregnant," he said, rather matter-of-factly, given the circumstances.
I sat there for a moment, completely stunned, and unsure of what to say next.  "Are you serious?" I said, as if he had just told me Santa's sleigh had been spotted over Chicago.
"Yeah...Just found out yesterday."

So, we sat there for a while, talking about what the future might hold for the two of them.  He was obviously scared to death, but in an excited kind of way.  It was the absolute last thing on the planet I had expected to hear at my bachelor party, and a part of me was admittedly saddened.  Not at all for them...I was, and am, genuinely excited for them to the point I could burst.  But, upon the initial news, I could feel a bit of my past slipping away.  DJ and I have been best friends since we were 8 years old, and when something like that happens, you instantly realize that things are different forever.  It was sad, and scary, and exciting, and incredible all in one moment.  And now...Carter is here.  It's just crazy to think how quickly it all happened.

Adrienne and I moved three hours from any family.  I wrote a post about moving shortly after we arrived, and the excitement and hesitancy that all carried...I wrote about how it feels like an opportunity to start over, and how I looked forward to what the future held for us.  Now, though, I feel more guilt than anything.  It is no secret that Adrienne didn't really want to come here, and I can't say, with all honesty, that I really wanted to either.  But, we were a young couple about to get married, we both got teaching jobs here (something that couldn't be said about anywhere else), and it just made logical sense to make the move.  But, seeing her struggle through the first several months was incredibly difficult to bear, for both of us, and made me feel awful for seemingly dragging her along.  She would never even begin to blame me, and I love her for that, but it doesn't really change how I felt for a long time.  As the year progressed, it was obvious she began to grow more comfortable and accustomed to all the change, and that offered some comfort.  But, I also know, her heart has never really been here, and I can say the same thing.  We just never really felt at home here.

That being said, deep down I feel like it has been a good experience for us, at least in the long run.  We've been forced to deal with overwhelming change with no one to lean on but one another, and I know that will pay big dividends for us and our relationship as we progress through life.  I feel like the difficulties we faced in the first several months we were here have helped prepare us for any number of unfortunate scenarios we may face later.  At the very least, we'll be close to family, which would make anything easier to handle.

Looking back on the last several months, that is the biggest change for me.  Before this year, I had spent 8 more living 4 hours from my family, and had grown accustomed to it.  I still got homesick from time to time, but those times grew fewer and far between as more time passed.  But then Lensey gave birth to Lydia in November 2011.  I grew extremely close with Adrienne's family and came to love them just like my own.  I never really said so to Adrienne, but I began to miss home more than I ever have in my life.  I guess part of it was because I was trying so hard to make things work here.  I wanted us to set out on our own, and create our own life together.  I wanted to make the transition as easy on her as possible, and felt if I expressed the same emotion, I'd just make it more difficult and easier to say "to hell with it," and just leave.  So, I put up a tough facade and bottled it away, just trying to buy time.  But now, I can honestly say that I absolutely can't wait to get out of here and close to our families.  My family may still be a couple of hours away, but after being here, that is nothing.  Adrienne and I talk about it often...If we wake up on a Sunday morning and want to go to my parents' house just to visit for a few hours, we'll be able to.  Now, we have to plan a trip weeks in advance, and hope something doesn't come up that would prevent us from going.

So, now, this time of year marks yet another new beginning for Adrienne and I.  Things are still a bit up in the air, but we both know, at the very least, we want to be with family.  Having that support system will help ease any difficulties we'll face, and we'll both be happy.  Which, we've both come to realize, is more important than just about anything else.  The last year has brought a boatload of change, and it's surreal to think about it now.  But, as is always the case with May, a new beginning is upon us and I know we couldn't be more excited to see how different things are this time next year.