Sure sign of spring: Play ball!

Reds Indians Spring Baseball
Cleveland Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso (17) celebrates his home run against the Cincinnati Reds with Melvin Upton Jr. during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s officially spring.

Not by the calendar or the weather, but by the only measure that really counts.

It’s time for baseball!

I heard the first spring training game of the year on the radio yesterday afternoon. When baseball starts, spring has begun and summer is not far away. The groundhog is forgotten and irrelevant by now.

Emotions drained far too often

We need perspective from all the rough events flooding our news feeds these days – Russian indictments from the 2016 election season, the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., potholes galore (it’s not the city’s fault the freeze-thaw cycle is bad this year), the unstable stock market, massive federal debt – and on and on.

Even many sports have become social platforms: taking a knee at NFL games, LeBron James and others speaking out on politics and other issues, the USA gymnastics/Michigan State/Larry Nassar fiasco, talk of paying athletes and/or families in elite college basketball programs …

Here in Cleveland, baseball averted such a situation by leaning hard on the Indians to eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo before the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field. Perhaps that was a cop-out to political pressure, or perhaps it was a wise move to keep the focus where it belongs: on the playing field.

America’s Game

Baseball is America’s Pastime for a reason. It pioneered free agency (remember Curt Flood in 1970?), but for the most part baseball is celebrated for what happens between the white lines.

(The exception: steroids and the Hall of Fame. That’s for another day.)

Many people say baseball is too slow. Football and basketball are headed that way with endless “this play is under further review” situations. Baseball also has instituted replay reviews, but they are limited and very fast. I can eat dinner in the time it takes the NFL to review a wide receiver’s catch.

Ah, baseball.

Video (did not) kill the radio star

As I was driving for work yesterday afternoon, I had the van radio on the local AM station that carries the Indians broadcast. This points to another problem with society: We are too visual. We’re all about television, video games, and “if you didn’t take a photo, it didn’t happen.”

We’ve lost our imagination.

Baseball is best consumed with our ears. I still have a transistor radio set to the Indians’ station, and I’ll turn it on as the summer goes along. I enjoy Tom Hamilton, the Indians’ lead announcer since 1990:

It’s a long fly ball, a-wayyyyyyy back, gone!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jqOASqRXYs

Gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?

Every baseball announcer has a calling card, a special phrase or moment he is known for. Growing up in Michigan, I was spoiled with Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey:

He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGEcx4RSZU

Now when we visit our sons or my parents in Michigan, we’ll listen to Dan Dickerson and Jim Price:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0azRYW9I38

During my high school days in the Pittsburgh area, I listened to Milo Hamilton, who broadcast for seven teams over a 65-year career. He’s most well known for broadcasting for the Houston Astros:

Holy Toledo! What a finish!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KrdS0Jn7dk

Take me out to the ball game

I’ve attended Major League Baseball games over the years that provided great memories:

  • I saw Earl Wilson, a Detroit Tigers pitcher, hit a home run in old Cleveland Stadium in the late 1960s. The Indians beat the Tigers, 2-1, in that game.
  • I was in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh the day Rennie Stennett, the Pirates’ second baseman, got his first major league hit in 1971. He had 1,239 hits over an 11-year career, mostly in Pittsburgh.
  • My oldest son and I attended a Detroit Tigers playoff game in 2006 when Kenny Rogers outdueled the great Randy Johnson, then with the hated New York Yankees. The atmosphere of that game was nothing short of electric – from the opening pitch through the final out. I’ve never experienced anything like that before or since.
  • For my birthday in 2014, my family treated me to a baseball game at Progressive Field in Cleveland against the Detroit Tigers – which just happened to be the day Omar Visquel, an outstanding shortstop and then (and now) a coach with the Tigers, was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame.

The games we play

Perhaps another reason I enjoy baseball is because I played it. I was a Little Leaguer as a youngster – I couldn’t hit, but I played the outfield because I could catch the ball.

As an adult, I played slow-pitch softball for about 25 years. As my three sons grew up, they played too. That’s one of my favorite memories from my sons’ childhoods: playing on the same softball team with all three of them.

(They were, and still are, much better athletes than I ever was. But softball sure was fun.)

Baseball is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. Run the bases.

Even if you don’t get into all the analytics – which many baseball purists do – it’s a simple game, really. Difficult to play (try hitting a pitched baseball with a 32-inch bat if you haven’t done that in awhile), but a game that many Americans – women as well as men – have played, and still play as adults.

Some of us pseudo-athletes do better with softball, fast-pitch or slow-pitch, but the idea is still the same. Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball.

Baseball season is here. I heard it on the radio. That makes it official.

And that puts all of life in the proper perspective.

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Changing laws not enough; we need a new mindset

It happened again. Another school shooting with multiple casualties, this time north of Miami.

We’re getting good at knee-jerk reactions to these situations. We aren’t good at figuring out how to prevent them.

Grandma saves lives

A grandmother in Washington state, of all people, has the right idea.

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/grandmother-turns-in-teen-who-allegedly-planned-shooting/

The grandmother of Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, found alarming journal entries Tuesday at her home in Everett, Wash., according to reports filed in court. She called police. An officer pulled O’Connor from class at ACES High School, an alternative school he began attending in the fall, to arrest him, reported the Herald newspaper in Everett.

The Herald continued:

O’Connor wrote that he wanted the death count to be as high as possible so that the shooting would be infamous, according to court papers. He went into detail about building pressure-cooker bombs, activating inert grenades and deploying explosives for maximum casualties.

“I need to make this count,” O’Connor reportedly wrote. “I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings (and attempted bombings). I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes” …

On Tuesday police took a glance inside the teen’s room, saw two grenades and left the area to get to safety. Officers applied for a warrant to search the room. The high school was notified and O’Connor was arrested, reportedly carrying a knife and marijuana. A search of the home led to recovery of the journal, a rifle, the grenades, masks …

On Wednesday in court, deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf told a judge that O’Connor bought a rifle because it was the same style as a gun used by one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 …
School officials learned of the threat Tuesday.

“Our main thing right now is gratitude, especially to the grandmother,” said Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the Mukilteo School District. “That couldn’t have been easy for her to do. The Everett police also did a wonderful job. That combination may have saved a lot of lives.”

Warning signs in Florida

In Florida, reports say there were warning signs about the Valentine’s Day shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

I can’t say I was shocked,” Joshua Charo, a 16-year-old student at the school, told the Miami Herald. “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

School Shooting Florida
A woman places flowers at one of 17 crosses placed for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior at the school, told The Associated Press.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Eddie Bonilla, another student, told CBS Miami. “A lot of kids joked around like that, saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. But it turns out everyone predicted it.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/plenty-warnings-florida-school-shooting-suspects-past-missed-signs-154926468.html

“Everyone” predicted the Florida massacre, but no one acted on those beliefs.

The shooter remains responsible, of course. He will have his day in court, as the laws of our land dictate.

The teen in Everett, Wash., also faces a day in court, but not with murder charges – thanks to his grandmother and quick follow-up by the local police department.

The blame game

We can debate gun laws all we want. We won’t eliminate them from our country. It just won’t happen. Certain types of weapons can be outlawed and perhaps they should, but the teens in both cases this week obtained their weapons legally.

We can blame politicians, including the president and Congress, but they cannot legislate morality. They can change laws, but they can’t change hearts.

Studying the connection between mental illness and lethal weapons possibly could lead to ways to prevent some mass shootings from happening.

But not all. Not even close.

“I need to make this count,” the Washington teen admitted. How can we change that mindset? Where does that mindset come from in the first place?

A different mindset

My worldview provides an answer to these questions, but it’s not a popular one in today’s America.

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” … The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:12,13

We’ve had that mindset since the beginning of time. It’s not my fault. I screw up, and I blame you. You blame someone else.

And on it goes.

We think the world revolves around us, and we get upset when we don’t get our way, when someone puts restrictions on us – such as, you can eat from any tree in this beautiful, lush garden except this particular one (Genesis 3:2).

Why won’t we outlaw semiautomatic firearms? We don’t want anyone telling us we can’t have something. It’s that simple. The cost doesn’t matter. It’s all about what I want, or think I want.

Freedom. Liberty. My rights trump your rights. Damn the consequences.

We’ve clung to this value since we first walked the Earth.

When do the consequences become too much?

Will they ever?

It’s not about me, or you

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends …

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Parkland, Fla., shooting tragedy took place on Valentine’s Day, the day of love. I wonder if that was a coincidence. Was the shooter mocking love by carrying out a supreme act of hate on that day?

Love, when done right, solves everything. Which tells us how far off from “right” we are when it comes to love.

Who hates those words from 1 Corinthians in the Bible? Is that not the definition of love at its best? If all 300 million of us in the United States followed the views of just that paragraph, imagine the problems that would disappear. Instantly.

It’s a mindset. Patient, kind, no envy or arrogance, respecting your views without malice …

Why is that so hard?

Many of us are clamoring for change to prevent further mass shootings from occurring. Yes, absolutely.

We can change laws, but until we change our mindset, serious crimes will continue. As will other situations that hurt people.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. There’s a bigger picture here, a much bigger picture.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

It’s time we grew up.

Featured photo caption: Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, appears in court Wednesday. He is accused of plotting to bomb and shoot classmates at ACES High School in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)

Perspective with the wild ride

The stock market took a ride this week worthy of Cedar Point’s “Steel Vengeance,” its newest roller coaster opening this year.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 5.2 percent, marking its largest weekly decline since January 2016, reported Market Watch, a financial information website that is a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co.

Twice during the week, the stock market dropped more than 1,000 points in a single day.

According to the Washington Post, investors lost $3 trillion – with a “T” – in stock market value in one week.

A little bit of that lost value belongs to me.

It’s happened before

I’m one of the fortunate people who has a 401(k) from 24 years working at one company. It’s still 100 percent vested in stock mutual funds, a very aggressive plan, especially for someone my age (57). My wife and I have other, more conservative, investments as well, so I’m OK with a risk-taking 401(k).

In 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 25 percent for the year, its best showing since 2013, said cnn.com.

Neither this week’s big decline nor last year’s big gains were unique. Both scenarios have happened before, and relatively recently, too.

Investors, who set a monthly record for sinking money into the stock market in January, pulled their money out at a record pace in the week ended Feb. 7, reported EPFR, a Cambridge, Mass., data firm.

Yikes. Too many investors bought high and sold low.

Take a deep breath, everyone. We’ve been here before, and survived.

Investing for the long term

I opened my 401(k) in the mid-1980s when I was in my mid-20s, and contributed to it for more than two decades. A small company match certainly helped. So did a wonderful stock run-up throughout the 1990s. Easy money, I thought.

I can live only in the moment, but if I live only for the moment I will miss so much.

Then the stock market crashed in September 2008, losing more than half its value by March 2009. My 401(k) lost about 40 percent of its value.

It took several years, but my 401(k) did recover, and his since grown much higher.

It’s a retirement account. I’m in it for the long term. In 2008, I knew I wasn’t going to start cashing it in for another 15 years or so, at least. So, the losses were only on paper.

That $3 trillion in value lost this week is on paper also. If you’re living off of that money, you probably should be preserving capital in more conservative investments. The stock market is for long-term growth, in general. (Some stocks are more volatile than others, of course, which is why every financial adviser will say we should diversify our portfolios.)

I haven’t checked my 401(k) balance recently. Neither has my wife (she’s more on top of it than I am). I’m sure it lost value this week.

But I’m not ready to start cashing it in yet. So I’ll just ride the wave.

Risk tolerance

Part of this equation is risk tolerance. Did I lose sleep this week when the stock market got volatile? No. I have a fairly high risk tolerance.

If you’re an investor and you did lose sleep – or you pulled a lot of money out of the market this week – then you probably are investing too aggressively. There’s nothing wrong with being a conservative investor. You won’t make the big gains in a boom market, but you won’t lose big during a correction or recession, either.

Each of us needs to determine our own risk tolerance. And also determine what the money we’re investing is for. Retirement? A nice vacation? Christmas gifts? Something else? It’s all good.

With the stock market, we need to take the long-term view.

Bigger rewards later

That goes against today’s instant gratification mindset.

We’d rather spend the money we make, all of it, rather than save some for a rainy day. We buy the latest technology – does every child, much less adult, need the latest smartphone every time a new one comes out? And I know people who buy lunch at a fast-food restaurant every day. A brown bag lunch is much more nutritious and costs a lot less. Eating out every so often is great – we do need to treat ourselves – but every day is an extravagance many of us can’t really afford.

Of course, if everyone acted like this, the economy would slow down because we wouldn’t be spending so much money. But we’d have more savings to spend on more meaningful, and possibly bigger, things. Saving money for a nice vacation or a new vehicle takes time and effort, but the rewards are so worth it.

Not going into debt for those things is one of the biggest benefits.

The future will come

Life in general is a lot like the stock market. It has its ups and downs, successes and failures. I’ve had great jobs and been fired. I’ve had emotional highs and lows (although I don’t often show them publicly). I’ve had great health, but I know I won’t live forever.

How do we handle the “life is not fair” moments, as well as the good times?

My retirement is much closer now than it was 30 years ago when I began investing. Starting to plan for my retirement when I was in my 20s will have a huge payoff very soon.

A big-picture outlook on life is so worth it. I can live only in the moment, but if I live only for the moment I will miss so much.

Take a deep breath. Plan ahead. Think long-term.

On average, Americans can expect to live 78.6 years, according to 2016 data published by the National Center for Health Statistics. Women can expect to live five years longer than men: 81.1 years vs. 76.1 years.

People who die young make the news, but chances are good that you and I both will reach retirement age. We should plan for it.

If we do that well, the roller-coaster ride of the stock market won’t cause us to lose sleep.

Not too much, anyway.