Archive | March, 2012

The Most Glorious Time Of The Year

14 Mar

“Cornell vs. Stanford…the most intelligent matchup in the history of March Madness”

-Email from Jeff, March 19, 2008

 

On the eve of the second March Madness tournament since Jeff’s death, I am coming to the realization that there will never again be a year when my anticipation of this great event will not be tinged with profound sadness.  That’s because, of all the many things that Jeff was passionate about and derived intense enjoyment from, March Madness was at the very top of the list.  It had no equal.  If Jeff was alive today and was employed, he’d be taking vacation days tomorrow and Friday to watch the first round, just as he did in 2010.  If he was in graduate school, he’d be skipping any classes that conflicted with the tournament games.  And for Jeff, it was all about the upsets…

As far as Jeff was concerned, if a given year’s tournament did not have what he considered to be a suitable number of upsets, it was a severe disappointment.  And he constructed his brackets that way, caring little if doing so would seriously diminish his chances of winning.  Consider this classic email exchange I had with him on March 17, 2007, the morning after he had called and awakened me in the middle of the night to tell me, as a prank, that number one seeded Florida had lost:

 

Dad > Jeff:  “Jeff, you are in 23rd place out of 23 in the Domershick pool !”

Jeff > Dad:  “Yes!  $10 coming my way!  Anyway, sorry for calling you late last night.  The alcohol combined with March Madness made me a little emotional.”

Dad > Jeff:  “I don’t mind you calling if Florida truly did lose, but when Brett just told me the truth, I was disappointed.  I thought we had a huge upset there.”

Jeff > Dad:  “Yea, I was just so frustrated—what a lack of upsets.  Two 11 seeds and three 9 seeds?  That’s it?  That’s ridiculous.” 

And so it was.  As I will share in a blog post later in the tourney, Jeff considered the 2007 March Madness tournament one of the worst ever due to its lack of significant upsets.  But every season brings with it the promise of new upsets, fantastic finishes and overall great basketball, and Jeff exuded that optimism in the days leading up to that year’s tournament.  And so to combat my March Sadness, I’d like to share Jeff’s article from his J.K. Rolling column in the March 14, 2007 edition of The Middlebury Campus.  I hope you can feel the passion and excitement that ooze from his words, in anticipation of the event that he and I both considered the greatest in all of sports.  You know that Jeff is raring to go when he uses the word “egregious”, as he did in the second paragraph below.  Enjoy the article: 

 

          It’s that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen. The most glorious time of the year, the time that causes employees to miss work and students to “forget” about their assignments. In the words of Dickie V, “It’s March Madness, Babyyyyyyy!!!!!”

          This year, the field is ripe with considerable talent. Florida looks poised to defend last year’s national title, UCLA appears ready to avenge last year’s championship defeat at the hands of the Gators (despite an ugly loss to California in the PAC-10 tournament), and Kansas has more than enough talent to advance deep into the tournament after egregious first-round losses the past two years. But in our constant obsession with the “favorites” – the teams that get all the hype and media adulation – let me present you with an idea: root for the underdogs.

          George Mason’s remarkable run to the Final Four in last year’s tournament was not only unprecedented, it was unbelievably exciting. It captivated the nation; for at least a few short weeks, the Colonials were the most talked-about team in America. George Mason’s run also served as a wake-up call to biased sports commentators like CBS’s Billy Packer who only consider traditional major programs worthy of getting any attention and at-large consideration to the field of 65. Yes, the small commuter college in our nation’s capital provided limitless hope to all mid-major schools that they could live the dream, that they could compete with the big boys.

          Rooting for the underdogs is a lot more fun than rooting for the favorites. It’s the whole idea of the little guy rising to the occasion and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to emerge victorious. Think back to some of the amazing upsets that have occurred in March Madness over the past few decades. In 1985, a Villanova squad seeded eighth in the tournament upended a heavily favored #1 Georgetown team featuring future NBA great Patrick Ewing in the NCAA championship game. Nobody thought Villanova would win. That’s what made its victory over Georgetown all the more exciting when it actually happened.

Fast forward 13 years. Who can forget Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beating three pointer in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament to upset a heavily favored Ole Miss team? After the shot, Valparaiso collapsed in a heap on the floor like little kids. The exhilaration – the sheer joy of the moment – was palpable. Let’s move forward to the 2005 tournament. Two first-round upsets will probably be talked about for years to come. Behind the clutch play by guard T.J. Sorrentine, 13th seeded Vermont defeated 4th seeded Syracuse in an overtime thriller. Perhaps even more exciting was 14th seeded Bucknell’s one-point victory over 3rd seeded Kansas. Here was a Kansas team that had national championship aspirations. No one could have imagined them losing in the first round to a small liberal arts school with no standout players…but it happened.

          My point: upsets are amazing. They provide excitement and unpredictability. Some people might say, “Oh, upsets just make the later rounds less exciting.” That’s fallacious. Who can say after George Mason’s run, including victories over UNC and top-ranked UConn, that the later rounds weren’t exciting? Upsets make the tournament that much better. So I’ll definitely be rooting for, and expecting, some big upsets in this year’s tournament. Hey, it’s called March Madness for a reason. 

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A Birthday Celebration: The Things That Are ‘So Jeff Klein’- Part 2

2 Mar

In part 1 of this blog post (May 31, 2011), I attempted to convey a sense of just how unique a person Jeff was.  As I’ve continued to make my way through the scores of emails from him that I’ve been able to recover, the examples continue to proliferate.  To state it simply, the kid was hilarious, without even trying to be.  He was just being himself.  His sense of humor was often expressed at the most random times and pertained to the most random subjects.  Today’s blog post is a 25th birthday celebration of the vibrant, upbeat, outrageous, and funny person that Jeff was, which is the one we will all remember.

To begin, and speaking of birthdays, Jeff absolutely loved them—not only his own, but everyone else’s too.  In fact, it is one of the many things that defined him.  Knowing how much he looked forward to them, I wanted to make his 16th birthday in 2003 a really special one, and so I arranged a trip for the two of us to attend three out of town baseball games over Jeff’s spring break.  I typed up a cover letter and cover page, and a detailed itinerary for our trip to Philadelphia’s old Veterans Stadium, the new Camden Yards in Baltimore and the historic Fenway Park (hey, I’m sorry—my parental instinct to expose Jeff to a historic landmark overcame my disdain for the Sox).

Jeff's 5th birthday cake, 1992

Jeff loved birthdays, and birthday cakes

I put the itinerary packet in a box, wrapped it, and gave it to Jeff when our family went out to dinner for his birthday.  Jeff’s response, upon opening the box at dinner that night, is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.  Suffice to say, I scored with that present in a big way.  And we had a phenomenal time together on the trip.

But here’s the most touching and heartbreaking thing of all.  Just three weeks ago, when I was going through Jeff’s top desk drawer, I found the itinerary sitting right on top.  Not only had he kept it until his last day, but he had also added pages to it.  Jeff never told me, but he had printed out espn.com articles and box scores for each game, recorded the attendance figure for each, and had noted in writing that he had caught a foul ball at the first game in Philly (off the bat of the Marlins’ Ivan Rodriguez).  He had stapled those pages to the rest of the packet and was obviously going to save it forever.  The fact that Jeff clearly treasured our trip together and created this keepsake that he would always have, brought tears to my eyes and broke my heart all over again.  How could I have ever imagined that “forever” would only be 7 ½ more years after our trip?

Now on to Jeff’s often random sense of humor. One great example is the email he sent to Carey and me on April 8, 2007.  In it, he simply pasted the following link to an online ABC News story entitled, “School Renames Easter Bunny ‘Peter Rabbit’”: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3018390&page=1

Jeff added all of one word of text:

“Disgusting”

According to the story, a Rhode Island public school had just decided that the name Easter Bunny was “too Christian”, and Jeff felt compelled to share his disgust with us over this decision to change the famous bunny’s name for this silly reason.  So random, and definitely so Jeff.

Drew and Jeff with the Easter Bunny, NOT Peter Rabbit

The other aspect of Jeff’s emails that never failed to crack me up was what he put in the subject line.  For instance, in another random email sent on February 15, 2007, the subject line said simply: “Ridiculous”.  And in the email, Jeff wrote:

“Dad, did you hear what Tim Hardaway said about gay people ?  Go to espn.com to find out.  This country is so crazy, I can hardly believe it.”

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=2766874 

That wasn’t the only thing Jeff thought was ridiculous.  Nearly two years later, on December 11, 2008, Jeff sent an email in which the subject line similarly said, “This is ridiculous”.  He wrote:

“Look at the Western Conference standings.  We’re barely a quarter through the season, yet we can say with near certainty that the playoff race is down to nine teams competing for eight spots.  Whereas the East is its usual muddle of mediocrity, with pretty much everyone having a chance.  Who do you think will be left out of the West?  It has to be someone good.”

“Muddle of mediocrity”!  Jeff always had quite a way with words.

One of the all-time classics came just a few days after the email about Hardaway.  You see, Jeff had been preparing at that time for an interview with Bank of America for a summer intern position.   As a typical college kid, Jeff didn’t exactly maintain a well-groomed Wall Street look at Middlebury, so Carey and I must have suggested to him that it would probably be a good idea to get a haircut and clean up his shaggy neck before the big day.  Actually, I infer from his February 20, 2007 email that perhaps we suggested this idea more than once.  The subject line this time contained the words: “The Hair”.

Jeff’s short but classic email said:

“So I was thinking about going for my all-important hair trim / neck shave this afternoon.  You think that’s a good idea?”

I remember that my first gut reaction at the time was “yes, wise ass, I do think it’s a good idea.”  But I don’t recall what my actual written response was…

Staying on the topic of subject lines, how about this gem from January 17, 2008, in which the subject line screamed “Nooooo!!!!”

“Nooooo!!!!!  Lafayette beat Colgate 69-68 in Hamilton on a layup with 3.5 seconds left in overtime !!!  The reason this is so bad is because these two teams actually look like the best two teams in the Patriot league this year based on non-conference records (ending Bucknell’s and Holy Cross’ long reign of supremacy in this league), so these two teams might very well be vying it out at the end of the season for a chance to go to March Madness.  When’s the last time Colgate got to the tournament, like 1995 ?  It might happen this year, but they have to figure out how to beat Lafayette.  Anyway, just where my head’s at after I got back from Wednesday Night Beirut.  Hope California is good.  Love, Jeff.”

Jeff’s interest in that game stemmed from the fact that Carey and I both went to Colgate, so he was always rooting for his parents’ alma mater to make it to the tournament.

Back to February 2007, which was certainly a big month for Hall of Fame emails from Jeff; probably the best of all arrived on Valentine’s Day.  It requires some context, though.  From the time Jeff was a little kid, he absolutely delighted in the idea that you could actually miss days of school due to snow storms.  And to his very final winter in 2010, he never lost the excitement of tracking storms in the hope that schools would be closed, even if by that time, it was for Brett’s benefit, not his. This is why I firmly believe that the October 2011 snow storm, combined with Chappaqua schools having a snow day on Halloween, was all Jeff’s doing.  It would have been his all-time snow day fantasy.  I loved that he never lost that little kid part of him. 

From the advent of the internet in the mid-1990s, once a storm was brewing, Jeff was on the case tracking it, practically trying to use body English to get it to head our way.  Once school was closed, the snow day was on for Jeff.  Whether it was sledding at Gedney Park when he was younger or making snow men with his brothers in the backyard, heading to Club Fit to play hoops or just hanging out and playing video games, Jeff wasted no time enjoying every last minute of it.  His love of snow days is legendary and definitely one of the many things that he was known for.

Jeff and I spent many a snow day sledding at Gedney Park

But once he headed off to college, Jeff assumed that the era of snow days was over for him.  After all, college classes don’t get canceled on account of snow… or do they ?  Valentine’s Day 2007, during Jeff’s sophomore year at Middlebury, provided the answer.  The absolute glee that jumps out of the following email to Carey and me is vintage Jeff:

“Who says you can’t get snow days in college???  I woke up at 7:35 preparing to go to my 8:00 class, and then I thought to myself, gee I better check my e-mail just to make sure class is still on.  Sure enough, there was an email from my English professor saying that class is cancelled, enjoy the snow, blah blah blah.  To which I responded with a whooping burst of joy.  I think actually that in college, sometimes the professors cancel easier than public administrations do because they can be just as lazy as students. 

Anyway, I’m glad that Drew and Brett got their first snow day; it looks like the whole county got the day off.  It’s kind of too bad that of all days, they miss Valentine’s Day, because that day is usually more fun than work anyway.  I wonder if Greeley will reschedule the annual Cupids delivering Valentine’s Day mail to students during classes. 

Also, I have broomball games tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30, and the commissioner said he would not cancel no matter how much snow there is, so that should be fun.  Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day; hope you are enjoying your days because I sure am thus far.

Jeff” 

It was college bliss for Jeff- a snow day, but definitely no cancellation of broomball games.  Beautiful.

Another thing that was uniquely Jeff was the way he enjoyed, from time to time, taking little jabs at me, little digs here and there.  Always respectful, but really funny, particularly in retrospect.  Take this email from January 14, 2007:

“Hey Sir,

Is there anything in particular you want me to read from the Dec. 24th NY Times you sent me?  I mean, you sent me the sports section, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in there that interesting.”

I guess I need to Google that issue to see what I thought was so scintillating that it was worth sending up to Middlebury.  But I thought Jeff’s response was priceless.

How can I end a post about the uniqueness of Jeff without an example related to David Stern and the NBA playoffs ?  Well, I can’t.   The date was May 11, 2010.  The email was to me and to Drew, and here it is verbatim:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/100510&sportCat=nba

1.    You will read the article in its entirety

2.    If there’s an iota of a chance you might not read the article in its entirety, you will scroll down to the section titled, “The Sue Ellen Mischke Award For ‘Biggest Inferiority Complex’

3.    You will say aloud, ‘Why did I ever, for a second, question Jeff’s belief that the league tries to fix the playoffs?’ 

                                      Sincerely,

                                      Jeff Klein” 

That email, in a nutshell, was our Jeff.  Funny as hell, passionate and downright unique.  I mean, “Sincerely, Jeff Klein”?!  And this was Jeff less than six months before he decided to leave us.  Six months.  So vibrant, so engaged, and so ALIVE.  I don’t understand what happened, and I never will. 

But I will cast those thoughts aside for at least this one day.  Instead, I will celebrate my son’s 25th birthday by focusing on the beauty and vibrancy of his life, which I hope comes across in the examples used in this post and in those used in previous posts.  He was a gem, there are no two ways about it.  And I pray deeply that he knows that all the amazing memories–which have been captured forever in pictures, texts, emails, Facebook posts, videos, his cell phone voicemail greeting (yes, it’s still there, give him a call), and in this very blog—will always keep him vividly alive for everyone who loves and misses him.

Where he would have been and what he would have been doing, had Jeff lived to see his 25th birthday today, is a matter of conjecture.  I hold firm to the belief, though, that if he had resolved to fight through his deep concern over the future, and let his head cleanse itself of the meds he had been on, he would still be living life to the fullest and deriving immense joy from everything he did and from everyone he knew. And with March Madness just a couple of weeks away, we all know what the focus of his excitement would be right now. 

I guess part of the wonderful legacy Jeff left behind is that nobody who knew him will ever think about things such as March Madness, snow days, the Giants, the Yankees, the Knicks, Wednesday Night Beirut, questionable calls in the NBA playoffs, major upsets and controversies in any sport, the word “egregious”, sports blogging, the use of colloquialisms, the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama, spicy foods, a ‘why not do that’ attitude, hilarious text messages, a love of friends and family, and so many other things too numerous to list, without immediately thinking of Jeff.  And when people do think of Jeff in relation to these things, it would be nearly impossible to do so without smiling.  In fact, I can’t imagine a better way to spend Jeff’s 25th birthday than by thinking about the things that are “so Jeff Klein”, and smiling.  And as heart wrenching and difficult as it will be, that’s exactly what I intend to do. 

-Rich Klein