Archive | April, 2011

Here Comes The Sun

29 Apr

The lyrics of my favorite Beatles song ring true: “Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.”   Well, maybe it wasn’t such a lonely one thanks to the incredible love and support that we have received from friends and family, but having extended well into April, it certainly was long and cold.  And so difficult.  It is inconceivable to me that it has been nearly a half year since the loss of our beloved Jeffrey.  I think every day about where these last six months would have taken him.  Would he have proceeded with his plans to apply to law schools ?  Would he have decided to find a way to pursue his passion for writing ?  Or would he have liked my idea of seeking a staff position in President Obama’s re-election campaign ?   I’ll never know.  I do know that he would have been with the rest of our family at the Knicks-Celtics playoff game on Easter Sunday screaming himself hoarse as the Knicks mounted an amazing comeback that fell short.  And I know that he’d have gone to Los Angeles for NBA All-Star weekend with Drew and me.  And I also know that there would have been many weekend nights spent partying with his amazing group of friends.

I remember many wonderful winters that didn’t seem so long and cold, even if the temperature outside suggested otherwise. And Jeff loved winter and all that came with it, including snow, snow days off from school, skiing, playing on basketball teams from 5th grade through high school, and going on our periodic February vacations to the Caribbean.   I have such fond memories of our family ski trips to Mount Snow or Butternut (Jeff was a natural on the slopes), but the funniest winter memories were from our first family trip to the Carribbean when Jeff was young.  And to be clear, these memories only got funny over the years, in retrospect.

 Our February 1990 trip to St. Thomas when Jeff was a month shy of 3 years old contained a couple of classic moments.  For context, let’s just say that Jeff was an extremely difficult baby and toddler.  That’s actually an understatement, as Jeff took the “terrible twos” to a whole other level.   Our first night there, Carey and I decided that the safest bet for dinner was to eat at our hotel’s restaurant.  This way, if either of us felt a temper tantrum or some other restaurant-unfriendly behavior coming, one of us could whisk him right into an elevator up to our room.  That was a fine concept, but we underestimated just how quickly Jeff could strike, even at that age.  When he reached for his glass of milk, we certainly didn’t think we had any reason for alarm.  That was until, instead of drinking from the glass, he proceeded to throw it clear across the restaurant, causing a French woman at the next table to shout, “Mon Dieu !”  Even at less than 3 years old, Jeff (always the athlete) had quite a throwing arm, and we were very fortunate that nobody was hit.  However, milk did spill as the glass was in flight, and that didn’t make either the other patrons or the restaurant staff very happy.  We snarfed down our dinner as quickly as possible and got out of there.  I tipped particularly well that night.

Jeff and Dad, Hangin' in St. Thomas, Feb. 1990

St. Thomas, Feb. 1990

Then, on the night of February 11th, while still in St. Thomas, I was excited to watch the heavyweight boxing title fight between then-champion Mike Tyson and an unknown fighter named Buster Douglas.  The fight was being broadcast live on HBO, and after an incident-free dinner with Carey and Jeff, I sat on the floor in front of the TV and turned it on.  After probably an hour of pre-fight interviews, analysis, etc. the fighters entered the ring for the main event.  At that moment, Carey ran out from the bedroom to tell me that Jeff had just fallen asleep and to turn off the TV immediately so it didn’t wake him up.  You see, as part of the terrible twos, Jeff was a very light sleeper, and it didn’t take much to wake him up.  And once awakened, suffice to say he wasn’t exactly a quiet, happy kid.   In fact, if Jeff was awake, everyone in the hotel would be awake until morning, or until another guest had us evicted.  Given that the fight was about to start, I tried to negotiate a compromise with Carey, telling her that I would turn down the sound all the way and just watch the fight.  Nothing doing.  She said that even the flickering light from the TV, which would reflect into his bedroom from under Jeff’s door, would be enough to wake him. 

So I turned the TV off but hadn’t given up on watching the fight, and I formulated my strategy.  I would lie still on the living room floor with the lights off for about 15 minutes, hoping both that Jeff remained asleep and that Carey fell asleep by then.   But some of the best laid plans go astray, and I hadn’t factored in the effects of the bottle of wine Carey and I had shared at dinner.  As a result, the next time I opened my eyes, it was morning, and I was still lying on the floor.  Jeff and Carey were already up.   When I flipped the TV on, I was shaken out of my groggy state by the booming voice of an HBO announcer.  I will never forget his exact words:

“If it wasn’t for HBO, then you would have missed the GREATEST UPSET IN BOXING HISTORY !!! “

As his voice reached a crescendo, they showed the clip of a Buster Douglas punch exploding on Tyson’s face, causing the champion to crash to the canvas.  Instinctively, I screamed, “Nooooooooo” at the top of my lungs, as I was in disbelief that my light sleeping 3 year old had caused me to miss sports history.  I looked over at Jeff in his booster seat eating, and ever the lover of upsets, I swear he was giggling.  On February 13th, the Los Angeles Times had the following headline article:

HBO Deal With Tyson Still Good; Douglas Fight Replay on Friday

February 13, 1990|LARRY STEWART

HBO announced that its two-hour program on the Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson fight, which will include a complete replay of the bout, will be shown Friday at 9:30 p.m. 

That was all well and good, but it wouldn’t be the same as having watched it live.  Well, from the time Jeff became old enough to understand what happened that night until his final days, I teased him frequently about the fact that he, of all people, made me miss such a classic upset.  He always thought that was hilarious and never tired of me telling the story.  Just three summers ago, Jeff came to me and insisted that we buy the DVD of the live broadcast of that bout, so that we could watch it together from start to finish.  And so that’s exactly what we did !  I bought the DVD, we grabbed a couple of beers, and we spent a Friday night enjoying the broadcast from 17 years earlier.  It was a special evening, and we both totally enjoyed it and had some great laughs about the whole thing.  Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have just one more sporting event like that to watch with him.

Douglas Puts Tyson On The Deck

More than anything, though, our winters during Jeff’s childhood and teenage years were defined by his lifetime passion for basketball.  From the time he made his first travel basketball team in 5th grade, when he became a member of the New Castle Rebels, through his high school years,  I attended countless games of Jeff’s in basketball gyms across Westchester County and beyond, and I loved every minute of it.   As if I didn’t enjoy it enough with Jeff, I was blessed to have years of Drew’s and Brett’s travel, JV and Varsity basketball games to watch as well.  And Brett has one more season to go (Go Quakers).  These basketball seasons for our boys have always made winters very special to our family. 

Jeff played for the Rebels from 1997 to 2001

Jeff was always an extremely talented and accomplished basketball player, a pure shooter who was deadly from three point range.  In the winter of 2002-03, it all came together for him and he had a breakout season on Greeley‘s JV team.  He was the team’s leading scorer and acknowledged leader that season.  His success was interrupted for a few games in the middle of the season when I had to take him to the hospital when he dislocated a finger during a game.  But he came back and continued right where he left off.  Now here’s a piece of Jeff Klein trivia that even some of his friends may not know: Jeff actually played a few months of college basketball.  You see, when Jeff attended University College of London (UCL) for his semester abroad in the fall of 2007, he saw signs in their Student Center for basketball tryouts in September.  So he figured, what the heck, he’d go for it.  And sure enough, he made the team, started most games, and played at schools throughout London and the surrounding areas until he came home in December ! 

Believe it or not, though, my favorite basketball memory involving  Jeff was from a game in our town’s  7th grade recreation league, when I was the coach of Jeff’s team.  I actually coached rec basketball for all three of my boys, which was something I absolutely loved and looked forward to each winter.  Well, that season, we made the playoffs, and our first round playoff game came down to the wire.  We were down 1 point with just 7 seconds left, and so I called a timeout to draw up what I hoped would be the game winning play.  Call it nepotism if you like, but from my standpoint, I simply designed a play for my best shooter, who just happened to be Jeff.  The play was pretty simple, and it went like this.  We would inbound the ball to our point guard, Anthony Bonsignore.  Our biggest and strongest player, Adam Pollock, would park himself on the low block, and Jeff would go down to the base line and cut back up top off a screen from Adam.  In theory, if the screen was solid, Jeff would be wide open for the game-winner.    The outcome ?  Adam set a perfect screen, Jeff cut hard to just beyond the foul line, Anthony hit him with a great pass, and bingo- Jeff’s shot hit nothing but net and we won by a point.   I was pumped !  Before I could get to Jeff for a hug, Anthony jumped into my arms first.  What a great moment.  It’s amazing the things that you remember in such great detail.  I will never forget the look of excitement and triumph on Jeff’s face that night.

With winter also came the heart of the New York Knicks basketball season, a time of great excitement for Jeff.  That was particularly true given that he grew up during a golden era in Knicks history, which occurred when Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy were the coaches, and the roster included Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, John Starks, and later Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston and Larry Johnson. Those teams went to two NBA finals series, and we were fortunate to go to so many games over those years. 

I took Jeff to his first game agains the Bucks on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend in 1989, but the greatest memory which we always talked about for years, was the second game I took him to on Martin Luther King day in 1990.  It was against the Bulls, and little Jeff and I were totally down when the Bulls took a 17 point lead in the third quarter.  But similar to what just happened this Easter Sunday, the Knicks mounted an enormous comeback, and the crowd was going beserk.  Jeff, not yet 3, knew exactly what was happening and was screaming his head off.  Then, in the midst of the comeback during a timeout, the public address announcer declared the “Lucky Row Of The Game”, which of course was our row.  The consequence of this was that every person in our row received a kids’ push-button basketball shooting game called Hot Shot Basketball, which they immediately brought down to all of us.  As if the Knicks surge wasn’t enough, Jeff was now beside himself with excitement.  And ironically, Hot Shot Basketball was a game that we played together for at least the next two years on a regular basis.  After that timeout, the Knicks continued their comeback with the crowd in a bedlam, and they actually won the game 116-113.  That was the game that sealed the deal and made Jeff a Knicks fan for life.

Ten years later, I arranged to have a “happy birthday” message put on the scoreboard during a game we attended on Jeff’s 13th birthday on March 2, 2000.  Not surprisingly, the Knicks gave Jeff a nice birthday present by easily handling the Bucks that night 109-94. That was a great winter too.  The Knicks were coming off the 1998-99 season in which they made it to the finals, a new decade had begun, the stock market was still soaring and Jeff was lighting it up on his 7th grade Rebels basketball team.  Even in my worst nightmares, how could I ever have envisioned the message that would appear on that same Knicks scoreboard in another ten and a half years?

As of this past week, I guess it’s safe to declare that the infamous winter of 2010-11 is finally over.  Here comes the sun.  Unfortunately for our family, unlike in previous years, the sun does not bring with it the same restorative powers that it used to.  It is unable yet to thaw our grief over losing a special and precious young man who was lost in a senseless tragedy that simply did not have to happen.  All I can do is hope and pray that there will some day come an April when I can once again welcome the return of the sun and say with conviction, like the Beatles did,

“It’s all right.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6tV11acSRk

-Rich Klein

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UConn, And The Power Of Friendship

14 Apr

Sports Illustrated’s article reporting on UConn’s national championship victory put it this way: “Connecticut was dead in early March, as sure as the bare New England earth was lifeless and brown, awaiting spring.  It was a young team with an old coach, beaten down and hopeless, ready for the season to end.”  And yet they are the 2011 national champions.  I could have told you that the minute Duke was eliminated.  At that point, it was a done deal, and I knew it.   It was clear that Jeff wanted it that way.  Wanted it badly.

Despite finishing 9th in the Big East, causing Kemba Walker to crack after the regular season, “We overachieved,” The University of Connecticut Huskies are the 2011 NCAA basketball champions.  If before the tournament, you had switched the word “are” for “will be” in the previous sentence, what kind of reaction do you think you would have received ?  Laughter ?  Probably.  Ridicule ?  Likely.  In my local Chappaqua pool, 1 person out of 48 had UConn winning it all.  That ratio was probably higher than the percentage of people nationally who actually picked UConn to win.  I know a lot of Big East fans, yet I didn’t know a sole who truly thought that UConn had even a remote shot.

But I knew otherwise, and I knew it with certainty.  I knew UConn’s odds were actually 50/50 of winning it all, and the other half of the 50/50 was Duke.  And once Duke was eliminated, I would have bet my house on UConn if I was a gambling man.  But other than this once a year bracket pool and a Super Bowl box pool, I am not.  The knowledge of UConn’s impending championship was frighteningly clear to me, because I knew something that I shared only with my family and Jeff’s inner circle of friends.  In 2011, there were forces at work that transcended basketball.  Until this point in my life, I had not yet come to a conclusion as to how I felt about what happens to one’s spiritual being once this life is over.  The last 4 1/2 months have answered that question for me in the clearest of ways.  My beautiful son’s spirit is alive, and his capacity to love remains infinite.  UConn’s national championship is just the latest example.

As March Madness approached, along with the intense feelings of pain that accompanied it (see Call Off March Madness, 3/14/11), I really had no intention of filling out a bracket or entering a pool this year.  But then I decided that not only would Jeff want me to do one, but he was also completing his own.  The exercise for me was pretty straightforward, and it only required one real decision.  I knew that Providence (Julie) and Cornell (Jack) didn’t make the tournament this year, and so I looked through the bracket for Duke (AB, Ryan, Selim the Dream, Lisa Li and so many other Duke folks that Jeff had become great friends with) and UConn (Elon and Drew’s best friend John Pfisterer). 

To my dismay, I saw that both schools were on the same side of the bracket and destined to meet in the Sweet 16 round, and therefore I would have to make a choice.  It would be the only decision I had to make, because  in my mind, these were the only two teams who could possibly win the NCAA title, because Jeff would do everything in his power to see one of his friends (and in UConn’s case, one of Drew’s friends too) celebrate their school’s victory.   I went with Duke to beat UConn and go all the way, because I truly believed they had the better team.  In retrospect, my initial choice of Duke was fundamentally flawed, because I shouldn’t have been concerned with who the better team supposedly was. 

You see, I believe I know how Jeff thinks better than anyone does.  As a result, I should have realized that his view is that the Duke crew had their moment in the sun in 2010 and now it was Elon’s turn to experience the exhilaration of his school’s championship run, as well as the excitement of attending a school that was home to the new NCAA championship basketball team.  I can’t adequately describe the feeling of having known, before the tournament even started, something that the rest of the world did not and could not know or understand.  Duke and UConn were the only two possible winners in 2011.  There was no other potential outcome.  And the final proof came on Monday night, April 4th.  Butler shot the lowest percentage in NCAA title game history.  It was almost comical.  Could someone have created some rough air over the basket at which they were shooting each half ?  Sure seemed that way to me.  But this blog post is about so much more than just basketball.  It is about the incredible and unbeatable power of love and  friendship, and a celebration of those beautiful aspects of life.

AB

AB and Jeff have been best buddies since they were little kids.  Jeff absolutely loves AB and is drawn to him like a magnet.  I knew AB from a distance over the years as one of Jeff’s great friends but hadn’t spent that much time with him until the last several months.  Jeff would always explain to me that when he was with AB, he always felt warm, comfortable and happy.  He talked about AB’s laid back and always positive personality, which he described as infectious in a great way.  They also shared common passions for the Yankees (and sports in general) as well as for going out with friends as much as possible.  And whether it was playing on the same little league team in 8th grade (see photo-can you believe two avid Yankees fans played for the Red Sox ?!), taking photos together on their Greeley prom evening, hanging together after Greeley’s graduation, spending the final Saturday afternoon of Jeff’s life at Greeley’s playoff football game at Mahopac High School, or going out on that final Saturday night in Manhattan, AB and Jeff were always together.  And spiritually, they always will be.  And based on what AB has meant to me personally since Jeff’s tragic passing, he has become part of our family forever.  Watching Brett’s Greeley basketball games together, staying in frequent touch through texting, and being on the receiving end of his genuine love and support have literally propped me up and kept me strong.  Suffice to say, Jeff had outstanding taste in his choice of friends, and it is not surprising that he truly preferred seeing Duke’s victory over Butler last year to seeing a potential enormous upset.  It was for his love of AB, Ryan, Lisa, Selim and all his Duke friends that he preferred that outcome.

Matt Libertore, Jeff, and AB After Greeley Graduation, 2005

Prom Night, 2005

AB and Jeff (Top Row, 2nd and 3rd from left) Played For the Sox !

AB and Jeff- Always Together

There was one time in 2010, however, when I wasn’t thrilled to see AB.  For Memorial Day weekend last year, Jeff drove Lisa Li down to D.C. to attend some sort of Duke party weekend, from which he returned with his chest the color of a ripe tomato, thanks to his questionable decision to eschew suntan lotion.  Anyway, Lisa left her car at our house, and Jeff told us he’d be driving back with her to Chappaqau on Memorial Day Monday, one of the worst traffic days of the  year.  Not being a group to forego a day of partying, the Duke group apparently stayed down in D.C. most of that Monday before heading home.  When Jeff wasn’t home by 11pm or so with work looming the next day, I called to see how he was doing, and he confirmed that traffic was a mess.  I wished him luck and went to bed.  Carey woke me up at around 2am or so to inform me that she heard voices coming from the basement and that I should check it out.  First I confirmed, by checking the garage for Jeff’s car, that he was home.  But since as far as I knew, he was only driving Lisa home, I was reluctant to barge into the basement to tell my 23 year old to quiet down, send Lisa home and/or to get to bed because he had work the next day.  And then a further unnerving thought hit me.  I knew they were just good friends, but…….Nope, I told Carey, I’m not going down there.

She was insistent and getting angry.  She couldn’t sleep and the noise was coming from more than two people, she said, so go down there and break it up.  Now.  I know when I’m out of options, and her tone indicated this was one of those times.   I went down and saw that the main basement area was dark but that the exercise room light was on.  Knowing that there was no possibility that Jeff was lifting weights at 2am, I braced for the worst.  I walked in to find a mini-Duke Morning After Memorial Day Party in full force, and the first person my eyes fixed upon was a broadly smiling AB, with a cup of beer in hand.  With Carey’s clear instructions top of mind, I was not smiling as I looked around at about 6 other Duke people and Jeff.  I told them that Memorial Day Weekend was officially over and that we, and they, needed to get to sleep.  That was the one and only time I was not happy to see AB, though in retrospect, it was pretty funny !  Below are two youtube links to some precious video footage that I recently found of Jeff and AB immediately after they graduated from Greeley in 2005.

http://www.youtube.com/user/rktrain#p/u/0/w-umpwo_LTY


http://www.youtube.com/user/rktrain#p/u/1/yprng2E4ogk

John Pfisterer

John Pfisterer is Drew’s oldest and best friend.  They go back to Roaring Brook Elementary School together, they were teammates on AYSO soccer, rec basketball and then CYO travel basketball teams together as kids, and they remain the closest of friends today.  John is finishing his sophmore year at UConn. 

Last month, on March 2nd, Jeff’s birthday, Drew joined Carey and me for an excruciating visit to Jeff’s resting place.  There are no words to describe the agony of standing by your son’s (or brother’s) grave site, much less on his birthday.  We stood there together, but at the same time alone, with our own individual thoughts and tears.  After a few minutes, the silence was broken by Drew’s vibrating cell phone, which indicated a new text message.  Drew seemed to gaze at the message for an unusually long time and so I asked him who it was from.  In retrospect, I didn’t really need to ask.  It was from John.  According to Drew, he basically wrote that he knew what a difficult day this must be for him, and he wanted him to know that he was thinking of him and was there for him any time of day or night if he wanted to talk.  And he closed by making what I’ve come to learn is the ultimate declaration of support that one friend can make to another-“I’ve always got your back.”  My eyes welled up again, and I thought about the maturity and sensitivity a 20 year old young man must possess to send such a loving, caring message to his friend on a day like this.  And how did he know that that moment was the perfect time to send that text ?  Could he have known we were standing there at the cemetery ?  But isn’t that the way it always is with true friends ?  They know.  Real friends just know.  I’ve always loved John Pfisterer and felt he was a great friend for Drew, but at that moment he became more than my son’s best friend.  He became part of our family forever.  I am also convinced that, at that moment, with Jeff witnessing this entire scene and knowing how much John’s friendship means to Drew, UConn moved one step closer to an NCAA championship.  And to think, Kemba Walker had no idea.

Drew and John- AYSO Soccer Teammates Back In The Day

Prom Night 2009

Elon

And then there is Elon.  Jeff loves Elon and always has.  Elon has been clear that Jeff is way more than a friend to him- he is his brother.  It was Elon’s love for Jeff that led to the creation of this very blog, which has been a precious gift to me, both because it enables me to read about the beautiful memories that Jeff’s friends have of him, but also because it has provided me an outlet through which to share my own memories and feelings.  It has been absolutely cathartic for me to write frequently about my son here, and I owe Elon a huge debt of gratitude for this.  Furthermore, it was Elon who called me the day after Jeff, and after we sobbed together on the phone, he told me that he wanted to organize a group of Jeff’s closest friends to visit us before the wake.  And he did just that, as the group arrived the very next evening for a very sad, yet very comforting visit at our home.  Elon is also a member of our family forever.   He became so during the summer of 2008. 

Only parents can understand and relate to the absolute fear that grips you upon hearing the sound of your land line ringing at 2am when one or more of your kids is not home.  At a little after 2am on this 2008 summer morning, the phone rang, and Jeff was the only one not home.  He had gone out in the city with the guys and had been planning to take the last train home, the infamous 1:53am train.  The good news was that when I answered the phone, it was Jeff’s voice that responded.  “Where are you, and are you hurt ?”, I blurted out.  “Well, Dad, I just got beat up on the train, and I’m cut pretty badly over my eye.  They stopped the train and the cops just came to question me and try to find the guy who did it.”  He said he’d have to be taken to the nearest hospital to get stitches.

Apparently, Jeff and Elon were taking the train home together, and Elon got up to go to the bathroom.  When the train came to its first stop, a guy who was clearly drunk got on and immediately saw Jeff and started pointing at him, while shouting, “It’s you, it’s you.”  Before Jeff could react, the guy rushed at him and started throwing punches.  One or more connected, and the blood started to flow.  The police later said that it was a classic case of mistaken identitity, and that the guy thought Jeff had come on to his girlfriend.    A completely random attack on the wrong guy.  Jeff called back from the hospital a little while later, and when I asked him where he was, he replied, “St. Bar-na-bahss” with an emphasis on the “bahss”.  I quickly realized he was talking about St. Barnabas in the Bronx, and let’s just say, that hospital is not in an area where you’d want to be out and about at 3am on a weekend morning.  Jeff put Elon on the phone, and he reassured me that the bleeding was under control and more importantly, that he would not leave Jeff’s side under any circumstances. 

Apparently, Elon’s father, Les, was not happy with Elon being in the South Bronx at that hour, and he wanted him out of there.  And as a father, I didn’t blame him one bit.  Les called me to say that he knew that area well and that it wasn’t where we wanted our kids to be.  He said he might drive to the Bronx to get them.  But Elon refused to leave or let his dad drive down.  He was committed both to staying with Jeff until he was stitched up and to then finding their way home together.  He would not leave his brother.  Period.  This was an example of real friendship at its best,   It turned out that a kind police officer drove them back to Chappaqua at 5 or 6am, as I remember.  I will never forget Elon’s actions that morning, nor will I ever forget what his consistent love and support have meant to me since Jeff left.

Jeff & Elon- Friends and Brothers

To come full circle back to basketball, let’s remember a few facts.  This year’s final four was the first one in history to not have the presence of a number one seeded team.  Furthermore, two of the final four teams were enormous underdogs, and one of them wouldn’t have made the tournament if the format had not been expanded to 68 teams this year.  Further still, one of the other final four teams is a school currently attended by dear friends of both Jeff and Drew.  In short, there could not have been a final four that bore the imprint of Jeff’s influence more than this one did.   To be clear, I don’t believe that Jeff’s spirit is omnipotent, nor do I pretend to fully understand how his influence is now exerted.  The overwhelming evidence, however, discussed frequently on this blog, indicates that his presence, and most importantly, his love continues to be felt by his family and friends on a frequent basis.  And in the case of March Madness and the improbable runs of UConn, VCU and Butler, Jeff’s name is written all over it.  So whether it was through an invisible hand that altered a shot here and there, some turbulence created in the air above the basket being shot at by an opposing team, or by Jeff simply infusing the UConn locker room with his spirit and passion, there is one thing of which I am certain.  With his heart of gold and with a broad smile on his face, Jeff had a meaningful role in making UConn’s unlikely NCAA title a reality.  And it is clear why and for whom he did it.

It was for the love of his brother Drew and Drew’s dear friend John.

And for the love of his own dear friend Elon.

Thank goodness they didn’t listen to my original pleas to call off March Madness, because just think of what we would have missed.  We would have missed the kind of tournament that Jeff lived for, filled with upsets, buzzer beaters and a historic final four.  But most of all, we would have missed seeing the University of Connecticut Huskies win the national championship, which to me is the ultimate and most beautiful example of the power of love and the power of friendship.

-Rich Klein

Why Are You Going To Boston, Daddy ?

9 Apr

The first time Jeff asked the question was when he was just over 3 years old and, by then,  a full-fledged Yankees fan.  And although the answer was quite straightforward-I have been a day tripper to Boston for business purposes since before Jeff was born-I thought I’d give him an answer that he’d find much more interesting and fun.

“I’m going there to put a curse on the Red Sox, little man,” I told him.  The squeal of delight that I received in response is something that I remember to this day, and his reaction cemented a ritual that has continued from that day all the way to the present.  Prior to every single trip to Boston since that day in 1990, I have proactively informed Jeff, and then Drew and Brett as well once they were old enough to have achieved certified Yankees fan status, that I was headed to Boston to put a curse on the Red Sox.  And until 2004, my kids thought I was truly a magic man and could do no wrong.  After the debacle of that year, I assured them all that I still had the midas touch but just had an off year.  They seemed to buy into that notion.

Fast forward to last week, March 31st to be precise.  I had a closing dinner in Boston that night, but I made sure to let Drew and Brett know the real reason for my trip.  And the best part of all  was that, in a wild coincidence, March 31st was the season’s opening day !   Upon entering the city, I did my best to put an extra strong curse on our arch rivals.  As I was doing so (and I will never reveal how I do this), a thought occurred to me: this season, I didn’t need to be at the top of my game as it pertained to ensuring Red Sox failure.  I would have all the help I needed from above from the biggest Red Sox nemesis of all.  Jeff’s spirit, which had already had a meaningful role in UConn’s most unlikely rise to the NCAA championship (blog post on this forthcoming once I conquer technical difficulties with uploading pictures), would have a field day ensuring that this year’s favorite to win the World Series-yes, the Sox-would bitterly disappoint their loyal fan base by succumbing to the pressure of great expectations.

Well, the proof is in the pudding, as they say.  For the first time since 1945, the Red Sox  started a season 0-6.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the AL East defending champion Tampa Bay Rays, ALSO have started the season 0-6.  Do you know what the odds are of such a thing happening at the SAME TIME to the two biggest threats to the Yankees supremacy in the AL East ?  Off the charts.  Virtually impossible.  But it happened.   As has been discussed frequently on this blog, several of Jeff’s friends have also seen signs of Jeff’s presence over these last painful months, and this is just the most recent example of the signs that I’ve seen.  It’s quite uncanny, and it gives me comfort to know that my beautiful son’s spirit is alive and well, and he is relishing these moments in which he can exert his influence.

At least in 1945, the Red Sox had a real world excuse for what became an 0-8 start.  They had just lost Ted Williams, Dom Dimaggio and Johnny Pesky to military service in World War II.   This season, however, they spent gobs of money on top free agents Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and they were annointed World Series favorites.  And so while they don’t know this, all the Sox players need to do to find the explanation for their woes is to look into the Heavens, where they will see a good-hearted soul who simply happens to be a huge Yankees fan, and who has been one since the day he was born.

I wish so much that you were still here with me, Jeff, so we could work together on my traditional method of putting a curse on the Red Sox.  But since you are not, I appreciate you taking some of the pressure off me by helping from above.  And your results have been spectacular (despite today’s Red Sox win, their first).  Nonetheless, I will forever let you know when I’m headed to Boston for a supposed business trip.  You and I, along with Drew and Brett, will always know the real reason for my journey.  Just please don’t tell my boss.

-Rich Klein