Saturday, March 22, 2014

It wasn't my time

Hello, old friend.

Here's what brought me back to this space...


She was taking too long. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and glanced at the time. There was no one in line, just me, standing at the counter waiting. I only had so many minutes to spare. Staring down a considerable commute with the clock ticking away, all this woman had to do was hand me a coffee.


I headed on my way, with only so many minutes to spare. Precious minutes. Seconds. A moment. All in front of me, so many behind. So many taken for granted rather than savored. So many wasted. They are all intertwined, connected, stringing one moment to the next and to the next, until there are no more seconds to spare.

My coffee in my left hand, my right hand on the wheel. Music playing, the window down. And then, before my eyes, an explosion of twisting metal and spraying glass unfolded. The mass rolled in the lane in front of me, likely providing the final moment for the unfortunate soul behind that wheel.

As the wreckage tumbled rapidly closer, I veered to my left, narrowly escaping the path of the disintegrating car. Tires screeched, the road roared and I corrected my own path sharply back to the right to avoid the side wall. I glanced in my mirror and saw the mess continue behind me.

My heart raced and my hands shook.

The fragility of life and its connections were thrown in my face. It took a few extra seconds to get that cup of coffee in my hand, the one I somehow did not spill as I sidestepped my final seconds. What if the woman behind the counter had moved a few seconds faster? What if the morning had gone slightly different for the lives in the two cars in front of me?

We don't have minutes to spare. We are spared minutes.

I called my family and told them I loved them. It created a few laughs, but I hugged a handful of people once I arrived at my destination. I went about my work day, soaking in the sun, watching a baseball game and then writing about the news of the day. I savored every second of it. Every second. Each one a gift.

Now, I'm back here, sharing this with you.

Thank you for taking the time to read it. I hope it didn't cause you any delays.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sportswriter's Creed

This is my suitcase.
There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My suitcase is my best friend. It is my life.
I must master it as I must master my life.

My suitcase, without me, is useless.
Without my suitcase, I am useless.
I must pack my suitcase true.
I must pack sufficiently for airport security who is trying to search me.
I must pass through before they randomly select me. I will...


The cab is scheduled to pull into my driveway at 6 a.m. Actually, "as close" to that time as possible is all the dispatcher would promise me when I phoned in my request one night earlier. That means the phone alarm will go off at 4:45 and my empty suitcase will be awaiting me on the small couch in my office.

I walk into the room, flip on the light and rub my eyes as I try to remember where exactly I'm heading, and for how long. Is this a one-city trip? No, this one is two. I'm pretty sure. A quick glance at the pocket schedule in my wallet confirms it for me. I'm in a daze, but I'm conscious enough to read the tiny, multi-colored grid that's in my hand.

I count off the days. Palm up, I shoot out a finger for every day that I'll be gone. This one is seven, including this lovely morning that still felt like the middle of the night. Thus begins the packing ritual that I have gotten down to a science.

You know you do something a specific way when your 1-year-old son knows how to pack your suitcase. One afternoon, he stumbled into your office, grabbed a handful of socks from the nicely folded pile that was placed on your desk. Your suitcase wasn't put away in the closet. It rarely is during the heart of the baseball season.

So what did he do? He headed to the suitcase and stuffed the socks into the clear plastic zipper pouch that is on the inside of the top section. What do you know? That's where I put them. That's where I always put them. It was the kind of thing that makes you realize just how much your kids pay attention.

If he knows where I pack my socks in a suitcase at 1 year old, Lord knows what other habits he's bound to pick up from me. Poor kid.

Socks in the small top pouch. Boxers in the larger zipper pouch. Pants, folded into a square, serve as the base layer in the bottom of the suitcase. Running shoes, one atop the other to form a green and yellow rectangle, all the way to the left.

That leaves a perfect slot to house a media guide and your scorebook. If your luggage is lost, you can do without those for one game. That leaves room in your backpack for the book you have been bringing (but never read) on the plane for the past two months. There is a similar space that is perfect for one or two pairs of your running shorts.

Folded dress shirts on top of the pants. T-shirts on top of those. Then, your bag of toiletries rests across everything, with a sweatshirt providing the final piece to a puzzle that has been perfected over the past few months. A new routine might be required with the next suitcase. Christmas is always coming, and it seems like you go through one suitcase per year.

It's a rough world out there.

Zip! Zip! And a swoosh as the handle is pulled up.

Your suitcase is ready. You're ready. And the cab has arrived.

Time to go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back from the dead

A funny thing happened in the 17 months since I last posted on this blog:


In the month after my previous entry, I learned that I got my wish to switch roles within my company. At that point, our move to the Cleveland area became top priority, as did spending more time focusing on my family and my new job.

As a result, this endeavor took a back seat to just about everything else. Well, time to climb back up front. I've passed the one-year mark of living in Ohio and I've got the itch to start this blog up again. A few nudges from people over the last year and a half helped, too.

I can't promise a wave of stories out of the gate, but I do plan on posting on here more often. I enjoyed this writing outlet and I think now is as good a time as any to start taking advantage of this space again.

Be back soon...


Monday, May 31, 2010

Phoenix Running

Sitting in the back seat of the cab, I peered out the window to my left. Rising over Phoenix was a series of peaks. Not high enough to intimidate -- only enough to intrigue.

I'd been reading "Born to Run," which includes tales of ultra-running through trails, deserts and mountains. This was no Everest I was looking at out my window, but it was certainly a challenge. One I wanted to take on.

After settling into my hotel, I grabbed an area map and plotted my next run. South of the city's downtown was a green shaded section labeled "South Mountain Park." That was what I had spotted and was now officially my target. I had never really run trails, or on any kind of steep grade, but that was going to change in a hurry.

I hopped online and found a map of the park's trails, picking out one called the "National trail" for my run the next day. I wanted to run at least 10 miles and that route seemed to be a good place to accomplish that goal. I discussed things over with the concierge, phoned up a rental car agency, purchased some water and gatorade and was set.

At 9 a.m. the next morning, I pulled into a small parking lot at the edge of a dirt trail. Peering down the path, I saw it disappear into the foothills of a much larger hill, covered in large boulders, plenty of cacti and I could only assume a large assortment of snakes, scorpions and mountain lions.

I'm from the city, how would I know?

With my water bottle full, my shoes laced tight and my sunglasses on, I set off into the unknown. For the past two years, I had been running on paved paths and roads, lined with roller-bladers, bikers and runners. Finding my way down dirt trails, over boulder-covered hills, and up and down steep switchbacks was completely foreign.

Man, I had a blast.

Two miles in, I had ascended high enough to have a gorgeous view of downtown Phoenix in the valley below, and I still had higher to go. When the path was flat, I ran. When it went downhill, I ran. That was the pact I made with myself. Only when the path was overrun with rocks and required the use of my hands for climbing did I walk.

Midway through the 10-mile adventure, I felt like I was on another planet. There was not another soul in sight. Just me, shirt off and tucked in my shorts, water bottle running dry, sun beating down with no cloud cover, making my way along the rocky terrain. Suddenly, I didn't care about splits or pace. I never once turned on my iPod.

In fact, I lost it somewhere on the mountain, and did not realize it until later that day.

The second half proved to be mostly a descent, and I took advantage. I flew down the hills and switchbacks and top speed, concentrating on making careful landings as I blew down the mountain. My ankles buckled but held strong. My arms pumped but did not fatigue. I bounced off boulders and zig-zagged on the steepest sections, keeping a steady pace to the end.

Before I knew it, I was on a dirt trail, running toward the small parking lot. It was over. I had completed the 10-mile journey and still wanted more. If I did not have work in a couple hours, I might have been tempted to refill my water, turn around and go again. It was easy to see why trail running is so addicting for some.

It also proved to be a great workout leading up to a race on my calendar next month. On June 13, I'll be running in the Garden of the Gods 10-miler. It is a hilly course held in the thin air of Colorado and will present another challenge. If running through South Mountain Park was any indication, I will probably have a blast.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waiting to get home

Text message from wife:

"have a good flight we love you miss u see ya soon you are one more city till home"


That last part hit me. "One more city till home." I knew that only Baltimore stood between me and a return to my own place, but it really sunk in when that little note popped into my cell phone. I had been on the road for almost two months. And I was almost home.

I slid my phone shut and hopped out of the taxi, handing the driver his tip as he placed my bags on the curb. I was heading into the airport in the evening -- something I don't do often. I've learned over the years that the earlier the flight, the better your chances of avoiding delays.

There was one benefit to flying at night, though. When I headed to security, there was no one in line. And, I mean, no one. It was me and the guy sitting at the little podium waiting to analyze every last detail of my passport.

"I get this place all to myself, huh?" I joked.

"Yeah, V.I.P.," he replied with a smile. "It's like you're a rock star or something."

I laughed, even though his comment may have been laced with sarcasm.

I moved along, grabbing my two bins and breezing through the routine. I could go through security blindfolded these days, and you can always tell that the guards appreciate someone who knows what they heck they're doing.

Everything about this trip to the airport was turning out to be a bit mundane. I ran into a fellow media member at the gate, grabbed a quick bite to eat and a coffee and took my seat. I glanced to my right and the other reporter I knew was watching a bootleg copy of a movie on his laptop. I leaned to see what it was.

"What is that? Some rom-com?" I asked with a smirk.

"Yeah, Valentines Day," he replied.
"Really? Of all the movies out there, that's the one you decide is worth hunting for a bootleg?"

"Shut up. It's funny."

I got out my phone.

"I'm tweeting this," I said.

He suddenly looked embarrassed and started to say something.
"I'm joking," I said, cutting him off.

We both sat there, doing what we reporters are trained to do: wait.

Every year, I am assigned an intern to help out during home games. One of the first things I tell them is they will quickly learn that a lot of our job consists of waiting. And, in time, they will learn how to wait. We wait for players. We wait for calls to be returned. We wait for planes and trains and taxis. We wait for our rooms to be ready (unless you're Platinum. Then other people wait -- not you).

We happened to be sitting in the last row of chairs, right next to a line of pay phones. "Hey, I left my cell phone back home on the counter," a man said into one the phones. He leaned against a glass wall, one hand on his head, looking completely frustrated. "Yeah, I don't know their numbers. They're all in my phone. I just need you to look up his number for me.

Silence while he listened.
"Right. OK. I'll call you back in 10 minutes. I'm sorry about this."

He hung up, let out a sigh and went and sat down two rows down from us.

I told my friend I was going to get a coffee and got up from my seat. As I headed down the aisle, I stopped by the man who was just on the pay phone.


He looked up, surprised.

"I couldn't help by overhear you on the phone. Do you want to use my cell for a few minutes?"

He kept a stunned expression and stuttered a little and pieced together. "Uh, yeah. Really?"

"Sure. I'm just going to go get a coffee. I'll be back in a few. You can look up whatever you need to and make some calls. No big deal."

"Oh, man. You have no idea how much this helps," he said.

I came back a few minutes later and he handed me my phone.
"Thanks again. Really. Thanks so much," he said.

"Just doing what I'd want someone to do for me."

After all, I was in a great mood.

One city until I was home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Right this way, Mr. Bastian

Get to the airport two hours before your flight? That rule doesn't apply to me. That's when my alarm goes off in the morning, and I slowly lean up in bed, stretch out my arms and prepare for a leisurely journey.

I stroll into the airport, roller packed to traveler's perfection, and walk up to the counter and hear, "How are you today, Mr. Bastian? And where will you be flying today?"

"Toronto. Checking one."

I watch as they put the bright orange priority sticker on my suitcase. That ensures that it will arrive at baggage claim well before yours -- if yours even makes it, that is.

Most people get frustrated over the next step: security. Not me. Piece of cake. I see your faces. Hundreds of you. Tired. Weary. Staring at me as I walk by, skipping the massive line that winds back and forth between the ropes, and then winds some more, stretching out into the main hall.

I have my own line. Just for me.

After I cut in front of you, and have my passport and boarding pass examined, I tell the security guard to have a great day. You'll get to meet him, too. But I'll be long gone by then, sipping a coffee and reading a newspaper.

Once I reach the X-ray machine, I have my routine down to a science. Right foot to left heel. Step back. Shoe off. Left foot to right heel. Step back. Shoe off. In one swift motion, I slide off my belt with my left hand and retrieve my shoes with my right. In the next move, I grab two plastic bins and place them one in front of the other on the metal table.

Bin one: Shoes, belt, cell phone.

Bin two: Laptop.

Only amateurs still have loose change in their pockets or think they need to remove their watch. And I always smile a little when someone's belt sets off the metal detector. Sorry, buddy. Extra screening for you. Lesson learned.

Once I'm through -- and it doesn't take long -- I head to the gate. I rarely need to take a seat if I have timed things right. When it's time to board, I go first. Women. Children. Old ladies in wheelchairs. Get in line. You all have to wait for me.

And don't even think about walking on that little blue carpet. You're not allowed. That's for me, too. Stick to the dirty airport carpet, please.

Who am I? I am the elite.

Maybe you'll get there someday.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Here's a tip

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The baseball season is here and I am back on the road. Now that Spring Training is in the rearview mirror, and I'll be spending much of my life touring airports, hotels and ballparks, you can expect more regular entries on the blog.

So please make sure your seats and tray tables are in the upright position...


"Can I help you with that, sir?"

"Crap," I thought to myself.

I never do the curb-side check-in at airports. I have a routine and this is one thing not included in the step-by-step, risk-avoiding system I have developed in my years on the road. On my first trip of the 2010 regular season, I let my guard down and was trapped.

"Sure," I replied as the porter snatched up by bags and hustled them away.

I go to the counter inside the airport. This is my Step 1. They're friendly in there, they know what they're doing and best of all... you don't tip. They'd probably look at you funny if you tried. My cab driver put me behind the eight ball from the beginning, though. He pulled in right alongside the skycap in the parking garage, giving the porter the advantage.

Before I was even out of the taxi, my bags were being transferred from driver to porter. They must have had an arrangement set up beforehand or something. This was too well organized. I wasn't the first sucker. But, I went with the flow and altered my routine this one time. Whatever. Live and learn and all that.

"Where you goin'?" he asked.


"How many bags are you checking?"

"Just these two, thanks."

I wait. He tags my bags, placing the all-important "PRIORITY" stickers on the tags. You've got to log a few miles over the years to earn those babies. Of course, all my hard work was possibly about to be rendered moot, depending on what I did next.

"OK. You're all set."

"Thanks again," I said, turning to walk away.

And, then...

"Tips are voluntary."

I stopped dead in my tracks. What else could I do? This is why I go inside. I tipped the bag guy at the hotel. I tipped the cab driver. Later in the evening, I planned on tipping my waitress. That's my tip quota. Besides, since I never use the curb-side service, I had no frame of reference.

How much do I tip this guy?

Suddenly I'm in a Seinfeld episode. OK, well, one dollar is fine for the porters at the hotel. So I figured that's got to be acceptable for the guy who basically did the same job at the curb, right? I mean, he even had the guts to tell me that tips were voluntary. If you come out and say that, doesn't that decrease your tip?

All these factors are running through my head as I fished out my wallet.

What good was that tip calculator app I just downloaded on my phone? Useless here. Completely useless.

I opened up my wallet, and I know this guy sees the wad of cash I've got on me. I just stopped at an ATM at the hotel before heading to the airport. I've a handful of twenties. I had to flip through those, then past a ten and a couple fives and finally, after he's probably added up how much green I'm packing, I pull out a single.

I can still see the look on his face when I set the dollar on the counter. All that was missing was a huge sigh of disappointment. I avoided eye contact, grabbed my carry-on and headed away quickly. I obviously was now a bad tipper in his mind. He even had to ask me to tip! What kind of jerk was I?

When I got to my gate, another writer was there waiting to board the same flight.

"Hey, what do you tip those curb-side guys?" I asked.

"I don't know. Don't use them," he replied.

"Yeah, I don't either, but I got hustled out there."

He chuckled.

"So, what would you guess is a good tip?"

"Maybe five bucks?"

"Crap. I gave him a dollar."

"Your bags are going to Honolulu."