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Six Years After Jeff’s Death, Goodbye To The Candidate Who Infused Him With Life

2 Nov

“Nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere is willing to hope. Somebody is willing to stand up. Somebody who is willing to stand up when they are told, ‘No you can’t ‘, and instead they say, ‘Yes We Can’.”

     –Barack Obama, February 12, 2008

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When I saw the card in the mail, it seemed so right and natural that for a brief moment, I was back in 2008, and I instinctively put it aside to give to Jeff when I next saw him. But as had been the case in similar situations when I’d allowed myself to drift from the real world over these past six years, reality struck back quickly, reminding me once more that if I ever see Jeff again, it will be in a very different place.  And It will be too late to give him the card.

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Yet here it was, a voting card addressed to Jeff as if he was still here, because with an extremely consequential election on the horizon, how could he not be?  His booming voice from eight years ago, passionately explaining why Barack Obama needed to prevail over John McCain, still echoes throughout Middlebury’s campus, in many bars in Westchester County and Manhattan, and Lord knows, in every room of our home. Thankfully, I can hear him as clearly today as I did back then. Such was the passion with which he spoke and campaigned on Obama’s behalf. In 2012, I actually believed that Obama, without Jeff on earth to fight for him, would have no chance against Mitt Romney.

Despite Donald Trump’s deep concerns about dead people voting, there’s something very wrong about the fact that election officials don’t accept absentee ballots from Heaven, for if they did, Jeff would surely find a way to get it here. His unwavering support for Obama would clearly have extended to Hillary Clinton as the keeper of the President’s legacy. But irrespective of the fact that the Westchester Board of Elections still believes he’s here and continues to send him voting information cards, the harsh truth is that politics is yet another passion that Jeff left behind when he made his tragic choice.  The depth of his despair on November 9th, 2010 was so great that Barack Obama’s re-election two years in the future was the furthest thing from Jeff’s mind.

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Jeff was three weeks shy of 21 when the young candidate out of Chicago uttered the words quoted at the beginning of this post, but it was more than the pithy catch phrase at the end that had him captivated from the start. Jeff was on his way to graduating magna cum laude from Middlebury, and he placed a high value on intelligence, especially when it came to choosing a candidate to back as the leader of the free world.  Obama had it, and Jeff viewed him as a welcome contrast to the President of the prior eight years.

Whether Obama had what it took to actually govern effectively remained to be seen, but Jeff was willing to take a flyer on that. The man was intelligent, articulate , a respected Senator and a devoted family man, and if that wasn’t enough, Obama was passionate about hoops too. Done deal. Jeff resolved to dedicate the next nine months of his life to convincing every single person in his inner and outer circles that it was crucial that Barack Obama be elected President.  And when Jeff latched onto a cause, you knew it was going to be a wild ride. This email to me, which signified the beginning of his crusade, made that perfectly clear:

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As an admirer of McCain back then, I couldn’t resist taking every opportunity that summer, when the race appeared to be close, to send Jeff little barbs about how Obama was blowing his opportunity to beat a Republican Party in disarray. I sent him an article in which Republican strategist Ed Rollins was quoted as saying that Joe Biden was a terrible VP choice for the Dems and that Hillary should have been chosen instead. Jeff  blew that argument out of the water in his response to me, but he did acknowledge that the race was tight.

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When the polls showed that the contest remained close through early September, Jeff began to ruminate over what he considered to be the potentially dire implications of an Obama loss.

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However, just a week later, the tide began to turn Obama’s way, and by the time the calendar turned to October, I  conceded to Jeff that he could probably relax and start planning the election night parties at Middlebury.

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Starting a month before Election Day, Jeff and Elon Rubin, this blog’s creator, began the countdown to victory.

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And then, history was made on a night that contained little suspense. It was clear from early that evening that Obama was in control, and at exactly 11 pm Eastern time, when the polls closed in many western states, the first election in which Jeff cast a vote was called for the first African American President-elect. It took Jeff only three minutes to email me with his victory message.

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Of all all the emails and texts that I’ve shared over the past six years, this one brings to the fore the widest range of powerful emotions.  I feel in my bones Jeff’s sense of triumph and satisfaction that he had fought for a winning cause. I shed tears of happiness that the candidate and his message had so inspired him and sparked a fire within him that was on a par with his passion for the underdogs of March Madness. And staring at this email brings a longing for the closeness of our relationship that prompted him to email me just three minutes after the election had been called.

But the most overwhelming emotion of all is profound sadness. Neither of us knew in Jeff’s glorious moment that almost exactly two years later, with the euphoria of Obama’s victory long past, he would completely lose the spirit of “Yes We Can” and succumb to a hopeless feeling that was the antithesis of Obama’s vision for the nation. That dreadful feeling was also in direct contrast to the outlook that Jeff publicly expressed on Facebook in the days after the election, as he basked in the afterglow of victory.

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And isn’t that the greatest tragedy of all?  Jeff WAS in for a great eight years and beyond, not necessarily because of what the new President was going to do, but rather because Jeff had it all going for him.  He was armed with every attribute one could ever ask for to forge a successful future, but in the final analysis, he failed what I believe to be the true test of intelligence.

In John Holt’s book “How Children Fail”, he defined intelligence in a way that has always resonated with me. Holt wrote:

“By intelligence, we mean a style of life, a way of behaving in various situations, and particularly in new, strange, and perplexing situations.  The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.

The intelligent person, young or old, meeting a new situation or problem, opens himself up to it; he tries to take in with mind and senses everything about it;  he thinks about it, instead of about himself or what it might cause to happen to him;  he grapples with it boldly, imaginatively, resourcefully, and if not confidently, at least hopefully;  if he fails to master it, he looks without shame or fear at his mistakes and learns from them.  This is intelligence.”

Jeff wanted to celebrate intelligence, but when faced with the first real difficult situation of his life, namely not knowing what to do after abruptly walking out on his first full time job, he did the polar opposite of what Holt lists above. He didn’t grapple with it boldly or even hopefully. He thought about himself and what the situation might cause to happen to him. He felt shame and fear after his setback, and instead of learning from it, his distorted mind concluded that his future was bleak. And then he let the worst happen by succumbing.

How terribly unfair it is of me, though, to even suggest that Jeff’s end had anything remotely to do with not acting intelligently. He was a brilliant man who was the victim of a cataclysmic chemical reaction inside his body and mind to misprescribed medication that left him defenseless. I had just hoped that intelligence and inner strength would be enough to overwhelm the destructive power of the meds.  But Jeff just couldn’t find that reserve of strength that we all have inside us. He tried for two months. It is not for me to judge whether he could have tried even harder.

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The text messages arrive each day without fail, the level of excitement contained within them rising as Election Day nears. Some report the latest projected electoral vote count, while others share the egregious happenings on the campaign trail. He is certain now that his candidate will win, and after over a year of loudly and passionately articulating how crucial it is that this result come to pass, he is ready to celebrate.

His booming voice at the dinner table so dominates our animated conversations about the election that the familiarity of it all overwhelms me.  As I drifted again into my alternate reality on this particular night, I heard his heavy, thundering feet running down the stairs to tell me the latest breaking news. I prepared to tell Jeff to take it easy because while I love his passion, he was making the house shake again.

But I could only stare as the 6′ muscular figure in the Middlebury t-shirt emerged from the dark hallway into the family room pumping his fists in jubilation and bellowing  “Arizona is now a toss-up! It’s gonna be a landslide!”

Having regained my senses, I was clear again that it wasn’t 2008, and while they are built the same, talk the same and have the same passions, that was not Jeff standing before me.

It was Brett, wearing Jeff’s college t-shirt and shadow-boxing in front of the TV as he watched CNN’s John King excitedly talk about the electoral map.

 Just six months older than Jeff was in October 2008, Brett has matured into a young man who is strikingly similar to his oldest brother. His recently found passion for politics has taken us on a 15 month election campaign ride that’s been eerily and beautifully similar to the one Jeff took us on eight years ago. Brett’s commitment to his candidate and his opposition to her opponent is on a par with Jeff’s commitment to Obama, and the way they each expressed that support through emails, texts and verbal onslaughts is identical. As Brett said to me one night this past summer, “We’re basically the same person…except for…”

He left it there, knowing full well that no further explanation was needed.

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Drew, who had swung by to pick up some stuff before heading to his apartment, walked into the family room and observed his fist-flailing, fast-talking little brother rail against Donald Trump. Drew is a more low key Hillary supporter who is much less willing than Brett, Carey and I to overlook Hillary’s baggage, and he’s been disgusted by the venom in the campaign for a long time.  Nonetheless, his chill demeanor stands in sharp contrast to that of his vociferous brothers. He took one look at me and instantly knew what I was thinking. He broke into a broad smile, walked over and wrapped me in a hug. Without a word spoken, the hug shared our mutual thought:

Jeff lives.

Six years after making the horrific decision to end his life, Jeff still lives. He lives through the amazing memories he created for us all. He lives through our nation’s political process, through March Madness, through his love of the Knicks, Yankees, Giants, great food and great beer, and through his brilliant writing on his Talkin’ Sports blog and in his school newspapers.

And yes, he lives through his youngest brother, who has proudly taken on his bold and hilarious persona.

Lastly, Jeff will always live through our exiting President, who served as the catalyst for some of the most exciting times of his life. Barack Obama has served our country with exceptional dignity and grace over eight scandal-free years, he’s a great guy, and Jeff couldn’t have chosen a better role model to support with such high energy.

I’m sad to see Obama go, but I will always be deeply grateful to the man who infused my son with so much life just two years before his tragic and unnecessary death.

–Rich Klein

From Joy To Anguish: The Handwritten Letters From Jeff

9 Nov

“I have no particular animosity towards emails; they are a fine way to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings. But they are far less personal than a handwritten letter…

Letters are intimate, words from one heart or mind to another…Letters require time and thought. They require sitting with our words before we send them out into the world. They are crafted, not dashed off; they are intentional, not by-products of passing whims; they are personal and directed at individuals; they are little works of art.

Letters allow for the beautiful ability to collect treasured thoughts and feelings. They are tangible reminders of the lives we lived, the people we knew, the places we traveled, the thoughts we had, the loves we shared. They hold a concrete space in this ever-changing and malleable world.”

 –Paige Vignola, “The Lost Art Of Letter Writing”, November 13, 2013, http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/the-lost-art-of-letter-writing-paige-vignola/

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The one thing about Jeff, perhaps more than any other, that made him so unique and special is that if you were part of his inner circle, any random day could turn into an instant classic for you with absolutely no warning. And so it was on a day in late January in 2008 when Jeff was at Middlebury for the glorious J-term, a month during which students took one class (usually a very eclectic one that had nothing to do with their academic concentration), went skiing, and partied relentlessly. Jeff’s favorite J-term class of his four years at Midd was, not surprisingly, “The History of Mexican Food”, especially since the course required students to taste the foods they were learning about.

So how could Jeff turn an ordinary January day in Chappaqua into an instant classic for us while he was at Middlebury? The answer was in that day’s mail.

In the middle of all the bills and the usual junk mail, there was a hand addressed envelope to us from Jeff. In the age of texts and emails, why would Jeff ever write us a letter? I ripped it open to find out, and the one and a half page handwritten letter I found was something we have treasured ever since. It was dated January 21, 2008.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to enable people to get to know Jeff even better than they did before, and his deep love of family is one of the primary things that defined his life. It is in that context that I share the complete letter that he sent to us nearly seven years ago, as it is the clearest illustration of that love:

Jeff letter 1

“January 21, 2008

Dear Mom, Dad, Drew and Brett,

I’d just like to take a little time out of my evening to say how grateful I am to have you guys as family. Like most, we’ve had our ups and downs, but when it comes down to it, we are all so lucky to be such a close, unified, happy family.

Mom, throughout my entire life, it has been evident how much you want the best for me and how it pains you when I have not gotten that. You have constantly pushed me to achieve my best, and I deeply appreciate that. You work nonstop to keep the family functioning, and although it may not seem like it at times, your work does not go unnoticed. You are an inspiration to us all.

Dad, I am absolutely blessed to have you as a father. You have provided us all with such an amazing lifestyle, which I am so very thankful for. You are the ultimate example of a selfless human being who finds the greatest joy in giving to others. You have served as the perfect role model for me and have given me invaluable life lessons. I can only hope to be as good and complete a person as you.

Drew, you have really developed into a nice and successful person. Your dedication to, and ultimate achievement of, making the varsity basketball team is the utmost accomplishment, and proves how far you’ve come. Like Dad, you always aspire to do the right thing and be a good person. Keep up the good work.

Brett, you too are coming into your own as a big eighth grader. Like Drew, you’re doing great in basketball, knocking down shots and racking up points, night in and night out. Also, your vast group of friends demonstrates how socially adept you are and how other people enjoy being around you. Keep up the good work too.

All in all, I think each of us is blessed to be part of this family. I know I am.

Love,

Jeff

P.S. And since I left Clif out of the equation, here’s to my appreciation of the cutest and least annoying dog ever. You da man, Clif !”

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After sharing so many emails and texts from Jeff on this blog, all of which were so expressive and communicated to us so powerfully, it is hard for me to say that Jeff’s handwritten letter was more powerful as a means of communication than those were. However, I do think it was special and unique, as it is not every day that you receive a letter containing such beautiful sentiments from your 20 year old son.  And this was one of only two handwritten letters he ever wrote to us as a young adult. The second and final one, of course, was the one that shattered our hearts.

To me, the striking aspect of this incredible letter is the fact that Jeff actually took the time to write to us and express such love and appreciation for everyone in our family, including Clif, our dog at the time.

In retrospect, it doesn’t surprise me that Jeff sent us such a letter in January of 2008. As with most months in his life, aside from his last two, that was a time during which Jeff was flying high. He had just returned weeks earlier from a fabulous semester abroad in London with his newly made friends who would later become the creators of Project Bald in his memory, he was thoroughly enjoying another January term of fun and frolic, and of course his emails during that month were upbeat and hilarious.

The first thing that got Jeff’s juices flowing that January was that, after being away for a semester, he was given the opportunity to resume his J.K. Rolling column for the two issues of the paper that would be published during the month.  He was fired up about that, and this was also exciting news for me, because I knew it meant that we would resume our routine of Jeff sending me drafts of his articles to critique before he’d send a final version to the editor. I found that to be such a bonding experience for us, and I absolutely loved our banter over his terrific work. And as you can see below, my suggestions were often wrong, and Jeff was never bashful about pointing that out!

Rich email to Jeff about numbers

Jeff email about rule of journalism

Jeff cool trivia fact

Perhaps my favorite email of the month from Jeff was the one he sent me on January 14th, after he was confused by a package I sent him containing the sports section of a recent edition of the New York Times. I have no recollection of what article I wanted him to read, but his email was classic and a perfect example of how even when he was being a bit of a wise-ass, he did it in a sort of respectful way. That’s actually a pretty unique talent for a 20 year old:

Jeff NY Times email

Starting the next day, though, our sports banter got more intense as the Giants prepared to play the Packers in the NFC Championship game with a Super Bowl berth on the line. I didn’t think the Giants could pull it off, but Jeff did, and he articulated his stance in classic Jeff Klein style. Even now, whenever the Giants are scheduled to play on a particularly cold day, I can’t help but think of and laugh over Jeff’s comment about Eli Manning:

Jeff hey i really disagree email

Jeff not convinced on brett favre email

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Jeff Eli email closing

January at Middlebury was a month for going out and having fun, and I knew that when I got an email from Jeff that was written in the early morning hours, there was a good chance that it would be a classic. The email he sent just after 2 a.m. on January 17th ,when he found out my alma-mater’s basketball team had lost in overtime on a buzzer beater, definitely merits hall of fame status in my view:

Jeff noooo email

Jeff Patriot league email

Jeff Colgate in 1995 Tournament email

Jeff california is good email

For his second and final article of J-term, Jeff decided to write a recap of the NFC and AFC championship games. I always preferred it when he wrote opinion columns rather than writing recaps of events, because I literally felt his passion for his beliefs jump off the page.  When I received a draft of this one, I expressed that to Jeff.   As always, his answer was well thought out and reasonable:

Jeff opinion column email

And then, on January 22nd, there was one last exchange to end another wonderful and passionate January term at Middlebury:

Jeff when coming home

Jeff coming home email

But those were the days when we never had to worry whether Jeff would return home after being away. He was a young man who loved his life, both at college and at home, and his texts, emails and the handwritten letter that arrived that month illustrated that. All of Jeff’s communications were so vibrant, and as Thao Lam has pointed out to me, they were always so perfectly written, including proper punctuation, even after he had been out partying. This is why I never even considered hitting the delete button when something arrived from Jeff. Little did I know that one day all of this correspondence would serve as one of the primary means by which I would help people get to know him better after he was gone.

After he was gone.

When I type those words, the enormity of the tragedy swallows me whole. The vibrant young man of January 2008 and well beyond should be here with us today. All he needed to do was live to fight another day. In fact, that’s all any of us needs to do. A winner is nothing more than a loser who tried one more time.

After graduating from Colgate in the heart of the 1982 recession, I was turned down for jobs by nearly every single bank in New York before a bank named Manufacturers Hanover made me an offer on Christmas Eve 1982 after seven months of looking. I was more than ready to quit the search by then, but I became a winner by simply trying one more time.  My perseverance back then resulted in a 31 year career in banking that continues today.

In the afternoon of November 9th, 2010, Jeff, in a brief and impulsive moment of extreme weakness, decided to stop trying. He typed on one page individual messages to each of his closest friends. I distributed copies of that page to each of them when they visited our home the day before the wake.

He also typed a full one page letter to our family in which he both addressed each of us individually and also explained extremely eloquently—notwithstanding how distorted his logic was– why he felt he had to end his life. I have shared snippets of that letter in various blog posts over time. It is cruel irony that the format of the first part of this letter was identical to that of the one he had written in 2008, with loving individual messages to each of us. It was the remainder, containing his rationale for quitting, which made it dramatically different.

Jeff, however, must have felt that the typed letter to our family was somehow not sufficient as a final goodbye to Carey and me. And so he took a couple of extra minutes out of his final day to write us one more handwritten note, using a black pen and driven by a black mindset. I took this last act to mean that Jeff considered a handwritten note to contain a level of intimacy and love that even he, the King of emails and texts, could not convey in a typed one. After reading it hundreds of times since, I believe he was right. I feel his love and his pain so deeply through his handwritten words. With his last pen strokes, Jeff wrote:

 

Jeff final note

Paige Vignola wrote that letters are “intimate, crafted and not dashed off, intentional”, and that “they are personal and directed at individuals.” This is all very true of Jeff’s final note. I know my son, and he clearly wanted to make this as personal and intimate as it could possibly be. And he also thought this would be the best way to ask us to forgive him.

It is not our place to forgive him or to not forgive him, but the fact that he asked for that is telling. A person asks for forgiveness when he or she knows they have done something either wrong or hurtful, and Jeff knew deep down he was making the wrong decision, both for himself and for those closest to him, but the strength he needed to make the right decision had evaporated. So often in life, people need strength just to make the correct decision. As the poet Aeschylus wrote, “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” And so it did for Jeff, but at the end, he simply couldn’t muster that effort, because his ability to do so was thoroughly dampened by the effects of misprescribed medication.

Today, though, I prefer to focus on Jeff’s first letter, and so in celebration of this post and of that beautiful handwritten gift of January 21st, 2008 which I treasure and read frequently, I have written by hand three letters—one each to Carey, Drew and Brett—and I have given those letters to them. They are letters filled with love, hope and the determination to fight together through whatever adversity that any one of us might encounter over the years. I hope and pray that they always hold these letters close to their hearts just as I do with Jeff’s, and just as I do with all the special occasion cards that I’ve received and kept from each of them over time.

And lastly, in closing, I ask every reader of this post to consider doing what Jeff did on January 21st, 2008 when he decided to “take a little time out of my evening to say how grateful I am…”.

Take some time during an upcoming day or evening to write a letter by hand to someone you care about and fill It with heartfelt positive thoughts, uplifting messages and lots of love. Perhaps there’s someone out there to whom you’ve wanted to say certain things but couldn’t find the right words. A “well crafted, intentional letter from one heart to another” could do the trick. Or maybe there’s someone you do express your feelings to often but you still want to give them something that holds “a concrete space in this ever-changing and malleable world.”

Either way, I think you’ll find the act of writing a letter to someone you care about to be fulfilling and heartwarming. For me, it was both those things, and it was yet another way to honor the memory of my beautiful son in Heaven on the fourth anniversary of his completely unnecessary death.

–Rich Klein

A Warm Email Exchange Between KDR Brothers Who Are Now Reunited In Heaven

1 Sep

In April of 2009, with just a month left in his college career at Middlebury, Jeff forwarded me an email from Sophie Dorot, the Treasurer of his KDR fraternity, asking the brothers to pay their dues for the semester.  Jeff wanted to contribute $100, which at the time, I thought was a little much given that he would soon be graduating.   As was almost always the case when it came to a request from Jeff, I acquiesced and sent him the money.  As if to show me that the money actually was going toward frat dues and that his $100 was very much appreciated, Jeff forwarded me the ensuing email exchange he had with Sophie.  True to form, I saved the emails.

I was deeply saddened to hear that on August 10th, Sophie Dorot passed away.  Another young life has ended way too soon.   I thought the Middlebury brothers of KDR, as well as others who knew both Jeff and Sophie, would be warmed by seeing the emails referenced above.  I pray that the two of them are at peace right now, reunited in Heaven, and reminiscing about old times at Midd.

Sophie to all

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A Champion Of Minorities And Enemy Of Racism, Jeff Would Have Been A Loud Voice In Today’s Warped World

26 Jul

“Well, you know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people, and I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”

–Tim Hardaway, Sr., on Dan Le Batard’s radio show, WAXY-AM Miami, February 14, 2007

 

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Rich response to hardaway email

 

Within the span of a few weeks this spring, a former Ku Klux Klan leader driving through Overland Park, Kansas decided to dedicate a Sunday to shooting Jews and then indiscriminately shot three Christians to death, Donald Sterling told his girlfriend he didn’t want her to bring African Americans to the Clippers’ basketball games, and scores of people became outraged when football player Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend in front of a national television audience after being drafted by the Rams. Jeff would have been disgusted with the fact that such things are still happening in 2014, and I have no doubt that he would have taken the opportunity that these events presented to become a loud voice against racism and homophobia, as well as a champion of minorities everywhere.

I first witnessed Jeff’s abhorrence of racism when he chose his senior history thesis topic in the Fall of 2008 at Middlebury. It didn’t take him long to decide that he wanted to write about the 1960s Civil Rights movement with a specific focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach of non-violent resistance. I am a student of 1960s history myself, and I have amassed a large collection of films and DVDs containing old news broadcasts from that time, many of which covered King’s movement. Once I knew what Jeff was considering, I offered to let him utilize my collection if he thought it could be helpful to him, and he readily accepted that offer:

Jeff Civil Rights 1

Jeff civil rights 2

jeff civil rights 3

Jeff unique angle email

Jeff ghetto riots email

It was not a coincidence that Jeff chose to write his thesis on civil rights at a time when Barack Obama was poised to become our nation’s first African American President. There were many reasons why Jeff was a huge Obama supporter, not the least of which was the fact that he loathed George W. Bush and was embarrassed that our country elected him twice. As much as anything, though, Jeff was excited because he felt that an Obama victory would signal that the United States had turned a corner in terms of racial equality, especially since the election of an African American President would have been unthinkable even a decade earlier.

I found it interesting that Jeff chose Election Day in 2008 to send me the document he called “About Me”, a one page personal statement that I posted here on April 13th, 2013 (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/about-me-by-jeffrey-klein/). Not surprisingly, Jeff opened this statement by writing about his senior thesis topic:

I am currently a senior at Middlebury College with a major in history and minor in economics. I am in the process of writing a 50-page thesis on the civil rights movement. That period is the period in American history that fascinates me the most, as it exemplifies a time where courageous African Americans withstood threats and intimidation in order to form a unified movement to ensure their equality under the law and in American society. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the person I admire most within the movement, as he was steadfast in his insistence on nonviolent protest, even as white Americans consistently brutalized and physically beat members of the African-American community.”

Jeff was appalled, though, that even months after Obama’s victory, blatant acts of racism continued to occur in this country, and many were targeted toward the new President. On July 30th, 2009, Jeff sent the following email containing the latest disgraceful example and made it clear how he felt about it:

jeff obama slur email

He wanted Palin to win the 2012 nomination, of course, because he felt that she was a weak candidate who would maximize Obama’s chances of scoring another blowout election victory. In July of 2009, Jeff clearly expected to be here in 2012 for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Jeff was also a strong advocate for women’s issues and was extremely proud of Carey’s work on the Board of Directors of Hope’s Door, an organization that seeks to end all forms of domestic violence.

Given Jeff’s love for sports, it is not surprising that his support for women extended all the way into the sports world. I was surprised and proud when in May 2010, Jeff told me that he wanted to write a blog post on his Talkin’ Sports blog in support of the WNBA, the women’s basketball league whose popularity paled in comparison to that of the NBA. Jeff was apprehensive to write on a league about which he knew relatively little. However, he was inspired by the excitement that WNBA games could generate despite playing in the shadows of their male counterparts. And he was apparently also inspired by a woman named Elissa, to whom he dedicated the post.

Jeff Dedication to Elissa

When I saw how Jeff opened this post, it was immediately clear to me that his support of the WNBA was consistent with and inextricably tied to his worldview and overarching support of what he always called “the little guy”. Jeff began his post by writing:

Many people probably think of the WNBA as the NBA’s unpopular kid sister.”

He spent the rest of the opening paragraph enumerating all the ways in which the WNBA got the short end of the stick as compared to the NBA—fewer teams, a shorter season, fewer playoff games and the unfairness of having to play during the summer when, according to Jeff, “most people are out at the ballpark taking in a baseball game or on the beach getting their tans.” He then strongly defended the women’s game by writing:

Jeff WNBA Blog Post

This paragraph was so Jeff. He was a man of the people, a champion of minorities and underdogs. He despised unfairness and inequity. Reading this reminded me of what he once wrote in his J.K. Rolling column in The Middlebury Campus in 2007, and although that was a sports column about March Madness, his words typified his general worldview:

“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.”

This is partially why Jeff so admired Martin Luther King. The theme song of King’s movement was “We Shall Overcome”, which totally resonated with Jeff given his desire to see people overcome insurmountable odds.

In his last speech on the day before he died, in Memphis on April 3rd, 1968, King said:

Like anybody, I’d like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

The very next day, King was killed by an assassin’s bullet.

King’s point is obviously that what you do in the time you have is more important than how long you live, notwithstanding most people’s desire to maximize their lifespan. And though I am certainly not saying that Jeff did God’s will in his 23 ½ years on earth, I am saying that he made an impact. He did that with his kindness toward everyone he ever met, his passion for the things he considered important, and his willingness to stand up for what he believed in. He voiced his opinions strongly and coherently and was willing to debate anyone at any time.

On March 8th, 1965, King gave a speech in Selma, Alabama, and his words that night get to the crux of what this post is all about. The civil rights leader who Jeff admired the most, a man who like Jeff, would die a premature death, said:

“And if a man happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be.  Some great truth stands before the door of his life—some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right and that which is just.  And he refuses to stand up because he wants to live a little longer and he’s afraid his home will get bombed, and he’s afraid that he will lose his job, and he’s afraid that he will get shot and beat down by state troopers.  He may go on and live until he’s 80.

He’s just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80, and the cessation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died… A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

Jeff never once refused to take a stand for that which he believed was true, and thus, as King so poignantly said, his spirit never died. And though many of Jeff’s causes were trivial compared to those of Dr. King, the fact remains that he spoke up and took a stand whenever he witnessed an injustice, whether it occurred in sports, politics, or in society at large. By that measure, Jeff lived just as long as many people who are in their 80’s. I take a great deal of comfort from this, and I am inspired by it.

Jeff was born to write, and with 20/20 hindsight, it is easy to see that all the misguided flirtations with possibly applying to law school were a waste of his time and energy. Had he pursued journalism as a career, I believe his unequaled passion and natural talent would have separated him from the pack, and he would have been a loud voice in today’s turbulent world.  I’ve never seen anything quite like Jeff’s strength of spirit, and when he latched onto a cause, it was difficult to not jump on the bandwagon with him. The world suffers for not having him a part of it anymore. He could have done so much.

Jeff vigorously argued his belief that NBA playoff games were rigged by referees in favor of the league’s favored teams, he called for the adoption of instant replay in baseball years before it happened in 2014, he railed against Bud Selig’s refusal to overturn the call that robbed Andres Galarraga of a perfect game in 2010, he defended the nascent women’s basketball league as being capable of generating the same level of excitement as the NBA does, he wrote about civil rights because he was appalled by the way African Americans have been treated in our country, and he dedicated the majority of his time and passion in the fall of 2008 to ensuring that every single person he knew understood how crucial it was for Barack Obama to be elected President.

He wrote passionately about these things in his high school and college newspapers and in the blog he created afterward, and he enthusiastically debated them at parties, bars, family gatherings and any other forum he could find. Whether you agreed with Jeff or not, he was an articulate and compelling force who could not be ignored. And that is why, if he had fought through his issues and stayed with us, I have absolutely no doubt that he would have found a way to be a leading voice in our nation, advocating for a multitude of worthy causes and railing against injustice. He would have been one of Donald Sterling’s greatest nightmares.

When Jeff died, my spirit died along with him. It appeared as if I would end up as the kind of person King spoke about—someone whose spirit died well before his breathing ceased. But the death of my spirit was temporary. Surrounded by love from a special wife and two precious boys, and inspired by memories of the passion with which Jeff lived, my spirit slowly but steadily came back to life.

How could it not?

I have watched Carey’s efforts toward the prevention of domestic violence, as well as her outstanding work as an EMT. I have watched Drew passionately pursue his love of coaching as he works with children in helping develop their basketball skills. And he is now pursuing his personal training certification so he can work with and motivate those who are committed to becoming fit. I have watched Brett create his own sports blog and pursue his passion for writing and a potential career in the media industry. And I think about Jeff and everything discussed in this post.

And so with my family as inspiration, my spirit is alive, and I will work hard to advance the causes of suicide awareness and prevention, and I will continue to devote myself to mentoring and motivating as many young people as possible to pursue their dreams without creating artificial deadlines. And I intend to aggressively work to convince the New York Bridge Authority to build safety nets at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Finding avenues through which to pursue these issues more broadly, and to do so with a passion that would make Jeff proud, would be another way for me to honor the legacy of the young man who was such an impact player during his short yet inspiring life.

–Rich Klein

Saturday In The Park

12 Jan

“Listen children, all is not lost.

All is not lost.

Oh, No, No…”

     -Chicago, “Saturday In The Park”, 1972

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Each week, I spend an hour or so of my Saturday morning walking our greyhound Dobi at Gedney Park.  Gedney is particularly beautiful during the winter when it is snow covered, and on the Saturday before Christmas, it was not only that but it was also sun-drenched on a rare 55 degree December day.   It was one of those gorgeous  mornings on which Gedney could be fully appreciated for everything it is and has represented to us since we moved to Northern Westchester 26 years ago—beauty, peace and tranquility, combined with children’s sports games during the fall and spring that create lasting memories for kids and their parents.

BEAUTIFUL GEDNEY PARK

BEAUTIFUL GEDNEY PARK

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DOBI PLAYING IN THE SNOW AT GEDNEY

DOBI PLAYING IN THE SNOW AT GEDNEY

I LOOK FORWARD TO MY WEEKLY WALKS WITH OUR GIRL

I LOOK FORWARD TO MY WEEKLY WALKS WITH OUR GIRL

It is a place where I feel I can really smell the roses, both literally and figuratively, even in the aftermath of unthinkable tragedy.  While walking in the wooded sections of the park, I think about what I have and what I’ve lost, as well as how much promise the future holds.  And I think to myself that if I had a dollar for every soccer and baseball game I’ve watched Jeff, Drew or Brett play in at Gedney, I could probably retire right now.

JEFF BEFORE A BIG SOCCER GAME AT GEDNEY

JEFF BEFORE A BIG SOCCER GAME AT GEDNEY

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As I look around the landascape here,  I think about how much Jeff loved growing up in Westchester.  While he certainly enjoyed going out in Manhattan over his last several years,  he always appreciated the atmoshere and beauty of the northern suburbs.

Jeff’s love of the country was paramount in his thinking about which colleges he wanted to pursue.  He had a clear vision of himself at a rural New England or upstate New York school with a beautiful campus, colorful scenery in the fall and tons of snow in the winter.  Not only was Jeff a great skier, but he also never lost that joyous childhood feeling of anticipating a big snow storm and a possible snow day off from school.

carey snow text

Jeff snow response to carey

From the beginning of his college search, Jeff set his sights on Colgate, the school at which Carey and I met as next door neighbors in our sophomore dorm.  If Jeff wanted a great academic institution with a drop-dead gorgeous campus and never-ending snow from October through April, Colgate was the place.

After visiting Georgetown, though, Jeff  began to think twice.  It was strong academically, it was in vibrant Washington D.C., and it had a close-knit alumni network that was known for taking care of its graduates when it came to job opportunities.  Carey and I also thought Georgetown would be a great choice for Jeff.  While he wrestled with the fact that the school just didn’t fit his vision of where he saw himself spending his college years,  he still decided to apply.

When the results came in and Jeff had been accepted at Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Colgate and others, while being wait-listed at Middlebury, the real decision-making process began.   Jeff was so torn between Colgate, where his heart was, and Georgetown, which he thought might be the more practical choice for his future, that he was still undecided just days before the May 1st non-refundable deposit was due at the chosen school.

On Friday April 29th, 2005, the day before the envelope containing our deposit check needed to be postmarked to reserve Jeff’s spot (there was not an online payment option back then), he came to us and said there was only one way to make this decision.  I have written about the uniqueness of Jeff many times, and this might be the clearest example of what I mean.

Jeff informed us that he was going to roll the dice.  Literally.  He had gone into our collection of board games, taken out a pair of dice, and his decision about which college to attend would be based on one roll of the dice.  Rolling an odd number would send him down to D.C. and an even number would send him skiing up to snow-covered Hamilton, New York.  Carey and I were incredulous, but it was clear that the kid was serious.  This, in a nutshell, was our Jeff.  Unique.  Outrageous. Impulsive.

Jeff agreed to let me watch this dice-rolling ceremony in his room.  Carey, absolutely bewildered that this was even happening, chose to pass.  I watched as Jeff took a deep breath, did his cross, and rolled the dice hard toward his clothes dresser.  After crashing against the dresser, the dice lay there with the answer, but I couldn’t look.  Jeff did.

“I’m going to Georgetown, Dad,” Jeff said in a voice that made my heart sink, as I knew instantly that he simply should have gone with his heart.  I told him that this was a silly way to choose a college, but Jeff insisted that he had done his cross before rolling, and this must be meant to be.  He asked me to get the $900 check ready to send to Georgetown the next morning.  I was heartsick now, yet after several more minutes of unsuccessfully trying to persuade him that this was the wrong way to make this decision, I did what he asked, and the check was sent.

I had to leave for a business trip to Dallas on Monday May 2nd, but within minutes after landing there, Jeff called me and bellowed, “HEY!  I just got a call from Middlebury!  I was at the top of the wait list, and I got in!”  He went on to tell me that Midd was the perfect compromise between Georgetown and Colgate and he was certain that’s where he wanted to go.  This was now clearly the one that was meant to be- we all remembered the gorgeous views of the Vermont Green Mountains, and there would certainly be snow galore.  They had their own ski hill, the Snow Bowl, within minutes of the campus, and lest I forgot, Jeff pointed out that the school was academically impeccable.

SnowBowlSign

LE CHATEAU- MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE

LE CHATEAU- MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE

MEAD MEMORIAL CHAPEL ON MIDD'S CAMPUS

MEAD MEMORIAL CHAPEL ON MIDD’S CAMPUS

As Jeff rambled on, I was distracted by visions of my $900 non-refundable check floating through the postal system toward D.C.  But Midd was the snowy New England school Jeff had always dreamed of.  His decision had been made, and I simply congratulated Jeff on becoming a Middlebury Panther.  Yes, I said to myself, this was meant to be.  After he took a few days to cement the decision in his mind, another check went out, this time to Middlebury.  I never saw Georgetown’s $900 again.  I called and asked their Admissions office for my money back, but they refused.  When they said non-refundable, they meant it.

The rest is history—a highly successful academic career culminating in Magna Cum Laude status;  reporter, columnist and sports editor for The Middlebury Campus newspaper;  great friends and KDR brothers;  plenty of skiing;  Wednesday night Beirut;  intramural basketball, softball and tennis; a raucous celebration on campus the night his candidate Barack Obama made history in a landslide; mentoring a young boy from a troubled home in Vergennes for four years; and a semester abroad at UCL in London where he would make incredible friends who would one day shave their heads and raise thousands of dollars for a crucial cause in his memory.

Jeff playing beer pong

jeff snow day text 1

jeff snow day text 2

Jeff snow day text 3

Jeff Election Night with champagne

JK Rolling 2

And I remember parents’ weekend each fall, sitting in their football stadium overlooking the spectacularly beautiful scenery in and around Middlebury, including those legendary Green Mountains, and thinking that he had made such the right decision after all.

MIDDLEBURY'S YOUNGMAN FIELD

MIDDLEBURY’S YOUNGMAN FIELD

But in retrospect, was it really the right decision?  As painful as it is to write, with 20/20 hindsight, it probably wasn’t.  After graduating from Middlebury with a concentration in history and a minor in economics, Jeff either didn’t or couldn’t envision a clear path on which to travel to pursue any of his passions.  He became a job seeker rather than a passion follower, and that is how he ended up as a paralegal in a ruthless New York City law firm.

Had he spent four years at Georgetown surrounded by government and politics at every turn, and with the full force of Georgetown’s alumni network at his disposal, all kinds of outlets for Jeff’s passion for politics would have been staring him in the face.  The path would have been obvious.  In time, he easily would have found a government-related position that he could have gotten really fired up about, and who knows, maybe he would have found a way, through local connections he could have made, to land a position as part of Obama’s re-election campaign.

Staying in D.C. as a passion follower would have kept Jeff far away from what turned out to be the worst type of environment for him- the poisonous atmosphere of a cut-throat international law firm. It couldn’t have been more wrong for him than that place was.  If he had gone to Georgetown, he never would have ended up there, and I’m quite certain he’d be alive today.

I understand that it is a complete waste of my time and energy to ruminate over matters like this that are over and done with and are not subject to change.  But unfortunately, that is what bereaved parents do, and it is unavoidable.  I fight the urge to explore the “what ifs” but I usually lose the fight.

—————–      —————–   —————-   ——————-   ——————

The message of Chicago’s Saturday In The Park resonates loudly with me when I think of Jeff.  To me, the song is about people seeking balance, peace and beautiful moments, a break from life’s struggles, in a sanctuary where every day truly is like the Fourth of July.  In the song, people are living in the moment, smelling the roses, and enjoying life’s simple day-to-day joys.

“People talking, really smiling,
A man playing guitar,
Singing for us all.
Will you help him change the world?
Can you dig it (yes, I can),
And I’ve been waiting such a long time,
For today”

I sometimes think of the world as just a big park filled with people trying to find these small moments and these human connections that are the source of so much happiness and energy.  When you go to your own park, your own sanctuary, your gym, your church or temple, I think you tend to find that things aren’t as bad in your life as you may have thought, after all.  And while every day can’t, as the song claims, be the Fourth of July, we can at least try to approach each day with a passion that makes it feel that way.

“Funny days in the park,
And every day’s the fourth of July…

People reaching, people touching,
A real celebration,
Waiting for us all,
If we want it, really want it
Can you dig it? Yes, I can
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For the day”

For 8 months, Jeff endured the paralegal job by surrounding those grueling weekdays with weekends spent in Manhattan and elsewhere up and down the east coast with his best friends.  Those weekends were his Fourth of July days, as were the weeknights at home watching and blogging about the NBA and the MLB.  But in his ninth month on the job, the hours became too many and the pressure too great, and Jeff quit.  Ironically, it all went down a few weeks after what would be his last and greatest July 4th, spent with many of his closest friends in Newport, Rhode Island.

jeff lobster dinner 2

Had he just accepted that life was tough and that the way to handle that reality was to go to his personal park and continue seeking out and mixing in those amazing moments with friends, life would have been just fine for Jeff. And the real tragedy is that, before the meds decimated his mind, he fully understood the therapeutic effect of achieving a work/life balance.  In his Notes From The Desk column in The Middlebury Campus from April 30th, 2009, the full text of which I previously published on July 31, 2011 ( https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/jeffs-parting-words-to-the-middlebury-community/, Jeff wrote,

While I can completely understand the argument that furthering our education is a central reason as to why we are all here, I also know that so many other factors exist that contribute to a healthy, successful lifestyle that stretch beyond academia. Believe it or not, relaxing can be extremely productive, in so far as it reduces stress and gets you into a positive state of mind. Yes, it is definitely important to get that 15-page political philosophy paper done, but don’t discount the benefit of kicking back and watching a ballgame with a few friends.

So what exactly am I trying to say?… I guess if I were to identify the central idea that I’m trying to impart, it’s to keep everything in perspective and recognize that life is multidimensional.”

Jeff notes from the desk full

Jeff notes from the desk ending

Clearly, on April 30th, 2009, Jeff had the healthiest outlook on life that I could ever have wished my son to possess.  A little over 14 months later, misprescribed medication took it all away from him, and he lost sight of the park. He never found it again.

The song’s most important message, though, is that all is not lost.  It’s never all lost.  Sadly, increasing numbers of people in the U.S. are not absorbing that message.   This country’s suicide rate increased 16% from 2000 to 2010, and this plague has hit all age groups.  We have got to do everything we can to stop it–by building barriers on bridges to prevent people from jumping, by making guns harder to get, by raising awareness through talking about this issue openly with our friends and family, and by educating people about the extreme risks associated with taking anti-depressants.  There is always hope.  All is not lost, no matter how bad things may seem.

Next Saturday, I’ll be driving back to Gedney Park with Dobi while listening to “Let It Be” on the way.  Once there, I’ll watch her play and prance with the other dogs while she alternately smells the grass and the trees, and having been mistreated on the racetracks of Florida before we rescued her, she probably really smells the roses too.  I will follow her lead and take my weekly opportunity to smell the roses in my life, and there are many.  But even now, over three years from when we lost Jeff, I still can’t believe or accept that he is not here to smell them with us.  This park, like Middlebury’s campus, was the environment that he loved and cherished.  And if not for toxic cocktails of medication, he’d still be here– visiting us periodically on weekends, joining me on walks with Dobi, and reminiscing about all the glory days he had on the fields of the park that, in the cruelest irony, has become a healing ground for me in the aftermath of his death.

–Rich Klein

Jeff’s Crusade Prevails: Major League Baseball To Adopt Instant Replay In 2014

24 Aug

“Silver lining from this debacle: MLB will expand its use of instant replay.  It has to.  History shouldn’t be altered the way that it was tonight, and the least we can do is learn from our mistakes.  Our country’s history is replete with examples of this.  People have made some egregious decisions in our country’s past—some infinitely worse than what Joyce did—but for the most part, we’ve been able to overcome them and have progressed as a society.

Now it’s time for one of those progressions.  Joyce’s flagrant error has scarred our country’s pastime, in plain view for all of us to see.  The ‘purists’—those who love talking about the necessity of preserving the game’s ‘human element’—must fade into the background.  We need to do everything in our power to increase the accuracy of calls in professional sports.  Expanding instant replay in MLB would lead us on the right path (frankly, I think replay should be heavily expanded into basketball as well since NBA refs suck so much, but out of respect to Galarraga I’ll keep my focus here on baseball).”

–Jeff Klein, “A Dream Denied: Galarraga’s Perfect Game Ruined by Umpire”, Talkin’ Sports Blog, June 2, 2010 (http://jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com/2010/06/dream-denied-galarragas-perfect-game.html)

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On August 15th, 2013, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced that the league would adopt broad use of instant replay beginning next season.

Of course he did.

It was only a matter of time before the crusade for which Jeff was a pioneering leader would achieve its objective–convincing Major League Baseball to adopt instant replay to review close calls.  Jeff began his quest in earnest in October of  2007 in classic Jeff Klein fashion, and from there he was relentless in his pursuit of the goal.

In the early morning hours of October 2nd, 2007, we were awakened by what all parents dread: the after midnight ringing of a land line phone when one or more of your children are not home.  Jeff was in London for his semester abroad.  It was probably 2AM Eastern Time, which was 7AM in London.  But after being awakened from a deep sleep, I barely knew where I was much less what time it was.  All I could think as I reached for the phone was that something terrible had happened to Jeff.

“DAD, DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PADRES-ROCKIES SUDDEN DEATH PLAYOFF GAME?”, my clearly outraged son screamed into my ears.

Well, he sure sounded alive and well, albeit extremely angry.

“No, Jeff, did you not realize I’ve been asleep for three hours?  But now that you woke me up in the middle of the night, it better be good.”

The Padres and Rockies had finished the 2007 season with identical records after 162 games and thus had to play a one game sudden death playoff to see who would get the National League wildcard berth.  In an alltime classic game, the Padres took a 2 run lead in the top of the 13th inning only to have the Rockies rally in the bottom of the 13th to tie it up.  Then, on the game deciding play, the Rockies’ Matt Holliday tagged up from third and barreled into the Padres catcher as he tried to score the winning run.  Umpire Tim McClelland called Holliday safe, though replays clearly indicated otherwise.  The Rockies began their celebration.  Jeff began his crusade for instant replay.

By this point, I was completely startled and awake, and so to this day, it is easy to remember his final words during this brief 2AM one-sided conversation:

“I will not rest until they start using instant replay.  These blown calls are ruining the game.”

At that moment I knew I wouldn’t rest either, much less get back to sleep, and I started to regret buying him a subscription to MLB-TV so he could watch the pennant races and playoffs on his computer while in London.  But that is who my Jeff was, and I absolutely loved his passion.  He certainly was never a rebel without a cause, and as a result, there was never a dull moment in our household.

After that 2007 season, Jeff got serious about this particular cause.  He wrote letters to the MLB, found email addresses of MLB officials and sent emails outlining his arguments for instant replay and one day, he even called the MLB office and demanded to speak to Bud Selig!  Fortunately for Bud, his administrative assistants didn’t put Jeff’s call through to him.  For the next three years, after any terrible call, he’d talk to anyone who would listen about this major flaw in baseball.  And in 2010, it was time to blog.

The beautiful thing about internet blogs is that, barring some sort of catastrophic event that might destroy the world’s information superhighway, they are forever.  And while I am sure that I’m the only person who still visits Jeff’s “Talkin’ Sports” blog—I do so at least once a week—it is a wonderful way for me to go back in time and literally feel Jeff’s passion for sports in every word of every sentence that he wrote.

Another beautiful thing is that the blogger’s words are memorialized in the record, and in Jeff’s case, that just means that it is easy to look back and see that, once again, he was right.  Over three years ago, he called in writing for instant replay to be adopted by Major League Baseball in order to improve a sport he loved, and through his writing, he continued his crusade to get it done.  And at long last, on August 15th, 2013 Bud Selig caved to the movement that Jeff began.  He finally submitted a proposal, which the owners and the players’ association need to approve, that calls for instant replay to be utilized starting next season.

But what strikes me more than anything is how the issues that Jeff so passionately blogged about in 2010, just months before his passion was ripped from him by his terrible job situation and then by misprescribed medication, remain extremely relevant today and how Jeff’s strong opinions continue to be validated nearly three years after his death.  The recent announcement by Major League Baseball is the latest example.  As with most issues, Jeff was way ahead of the curve on this one and called loudly for this change nearly six years ago.  Not only that, but Jeff was also specifically in favor of giving managers “challenges” , which is part of MLB’s new proposal.  Jeff wrote in his June 2nd, 2010 post:

“I like the idea ESPN writer Jayson Stark proposed: keep the home run replay system as is, expand it to all fair-or-foul plays, and give each team one challenge to use throughout the course of the game.  The thinking behind the latter idea is that teams will be inclined to save their challenge for later in a game when it matters most, thus mitigating the potentially devastating effect of a blown call that decides the outcome of a game.”

While Commissioner Bud Selig’s proposal is even more generous in that it grants managers three challenges instead of one, the way he structured it specifically addresses Jeff’s point about having teams save their challenges for later in games.  The way it works is that teams will have one challenge to use in the first six innings and then two more that can only be used from the seventh inning on.  Jeff would have hugely supported this construct.

The event that elevated Jeff’s ire to peak levels was umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call in the June 2010 game between the Tigers and the Indians which cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game and a place in baseball history.  Joyce called the Indians’ James Donald safe at first even though replays showed that he was clearly out.  Jeff’s bellows were so loud when it happened that I am surprised trees didn’t topple throughout Westchester County.   How did Jeff characterize the call in his June 2nd post?

“Terrible. Embarrassing. Shameful. Egregious. Call it what you want.”

The day after it happened, Jeff went out and bought the New York Post, as he knew that the paper famed for its outrageous headlines would appropriately capture the egregiousness of the moment.  He was overjoyed to see that it did: the headline was “Perfect Crime”.  Jeff tore off that back page and tacked it to his bedroom wall, where it remains today.

Perfect Crime headline

For Jeff, blogging about sports was the perfect way to express his intense fandom.  He was the most knowledgeable guy out there, he was deeply passionate about all sports and he had extremely strong views that he was always prepared to defend.  I was honored to be the recipient of his classic email which was written at the moment he decided to start the blog.  I know I’ve shared this one several times before, but as it may be my all-time favorite, I share it again.  This email conveys the sense that he wasn’t just planning to blog for himself, but rather he was going to blog on behalf of enraged sports fans around the world against all injustice.

Jeff starting a blog email

Bud Selig’s announcement on August 15th about instant replay is full of irony.  Jeff was merciless in his criticism of Selig in the aftermath of the Perfect Crime committed against Galarraga.  He was enraged that Selig refused to make the bold move of overturning the call and awarding Galarraga an official perfect game.  Jeff’s words in his next blog post, on June 3rd, 2010, entitled “Bud Selig Strikes Out…Again”  (http://jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com/2010/06/bud-selig-strikes-outagain.html) left nothing to the imagination:

“Bud Selig announced today that he will not overturn the call that ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game last night, which adds another layer of incompetence to his inept regime as commissioner of MLB…This was a unique situation that should have been dealt with in a unique manner.  A pitcher got robbed last night on the final out of the game.  Galarraga knew it.  Joyce knew it.  Selig knew it.  All the commissioner had to do was invoke the power that he had and overturn the call…It was the logical and correct decision.  Too logical, I guess, for clueless Bud.”

Jeff concluded his rant and that post by writing:

He had the ball in his court—a clear opportunity to right the wrong, to extricate the league from this quagmire.  But instead, Selig struck out…again.  What a coward.”

But now, as he parties in Heaven in celebration of MLB’s decision to acquiesce to the inevitable, I think Jeff would acknowledge that the Commissioner at least had the courage to change his position as the pressure mounted.  This landmark moment is a classic double-edged sword for me.  The good edge fills me with both a warm feeling of victory on Jeff’s behalf and with pride in the passion that he displayed in regard to so many things during his life.  I think about his successful and energetic efforts to get Obama elected and about his determination to get David Stern to step down as NBA commissioner, both of which ultimately happened.  I’m just so proud of him.

But the cruel edge of the sword stabs me in the heart with a reminder of how much more Jeff could have accomplished in the course of a normal lifespan and just how incredibly far his passion could have taken him.  My befuddlement over how quickly it all came crashing down for Jeff will never go away.  From July 8th to September 24th of 2010, Jeff’s blog went silent, and to use one of his own favorite phrases, the silence was deafening.  His struggles began in late July, and I spent over two months pleading with him to blog again and to find his spirit again.  Finally, on September 24th, I received the email that I had been praying for:

DSC02881

He sent his new blog post link to Carey, me, Drew and Brett, signifying that he was excited for all of us to read it.  It was a vintage Jeff tirade against the dictatorial policies of David Stern.  My son was back, or so I thought.  But in the end, it turned out to be a mirage, and in retrospect, I believe that if I hadn’t pushed him, he never would have written it.   It was his last post.

On opening day of the 2014 MLB season, there will almost certainly be a game in which a disputed call is overturned as a result of a manager’s challenge.  It will be an historic moment in our national pastime.  Though Jeff will not be here to see it, his imprint on the moment will be palpable to everyone who knows and loves him.  The best that I can hope for is that when each of you either sees it live, reads about it the next day or hears it on the news, you’ll think of Jeff and the 2AM phone call from London that started his quest for justice in baseball.  And if you do, it’s fair to say that my son’s passionate efforts will certainly not have been in vain.

-Rich Klein

Believe Only In Good Signs And Disregard The Rest

10 Aug

When our family first moved up to Chappaqua, we joined Twin Oaks Swim Club, and it was there that I received, for the first time, what I considered to be a “sign” for the future.  And it was a good one.  The year was 1991, and Jeff was 4 years old.  Jeff and I were at Twin Oaks together late one summer afternoon.  All I remember is that we were playing in the sand, on which all of the playground equipment sat, digging and making sand castles, having a great time.  Shortly after we drove away to head home, I felt like I was missing something.  Sure enough, I looked down at my hand, and my wedding ring was not on my finger.

For context, I never take my wedding ring off, and I mean never.  It is a part of me, and it reflects my commitment to and my pride at being married to Carey.  So when I saw that it was missing, I freaked.  I jammed on the brakes, turned the car around, and hauled ass back to the swim club.  I quickly realized that these actions could easily upset a 4 year old, and so I tried my best to calmly explain to Jeff why we were going back so abruptly and urgently.  And I told him I’d need his help.  Rather than being upset, Jeff actually smiled at me, as if to say he was relishing the challenge.  From the time he was a toddler, he loved any sort of adventure, and this adventure was on.

We hit the sand, and I instructed Jeff to start looking around the area in which we had been playing.  I did the same.  It was approaching dusk, so we didn’t have much daylight left to find this tiny gold ring in a fairly large sand area.  I was distraught, but Jeff had no time for such feelings.  He started digging furiously.  It couldn’t have been more than two minutes before Jeff exclaimed, “Got it !”, and his hand emerged from the sand with my precious ring in it.  To this day, I have not forgotten the picture of his face absolutely beaming with happiness and self satisfaction.  I was so excited, I practically tackled him right there in the playground.  The poor kid didn’t know what hit him.  

Triumphant after finding my wedding ring, Jeff and I bask in the moment

I was beyond relieved.  And I remember sitting there in the aftermath of Jeff’s discovery and thinking this was clearly a sign from above.  I firmly believed I was being told that my marriage was forever and would endure anything that life could ever throw at us.  That was no big revelation, since I had already known for many years that this was the case, but confirmation from above can’t be bad.  From that day forward, I was a believer in signs.  And after nearly 28 years of marriage, I can tell you that the sign I received on that summer day in 1991 was right on the money.

How utterly ironic and complicated it is that the most devastating blow that life has delivered to Carey and me was having the son who created the positive sign by finding my wedding ring decide to end his own life.  But true to the sign, Carey and I have bonded together more closely than ever in the 33 months since, and we have absorbed the punch, which was delivered with knockout intentions.  We’ve endured excruciating pain, but we have survived it. 

But here’s the rub.  Signs don’t always work out that way and can sometimes be nothing more than mirages.   The best example of this was the apparently clear sign that was received by everyone in attendance at Middlebury’s graduation ceremony on May 24, 2009. 

That morning, the skies opened up, and it absolutely poured.  As is customary, family members and friends of the graduates arrived early to reserve seats, and college representatives were thankfully already there to hand out rain ponchos to everyone.  But the rain was unrelenting and it continued drenching the crowd throughout all the opening remarks, the keynote speech, and the valedictory address.  The poncho couldn’t prevent the bottom halves of my pant legs from getting soaked and sticking to my skin.

Jeff was determined not to let his rain poncho cover his graduation gown!Jeff was determined not to let his rain poncho cover his graduation gown!
THE 2009 MIDDLEBURY GRADUATION CEREMONY GOT OFF TO A SOGGY STARTTHE 2009 MIDDLEBURY GRADUATION CEREMONY GOT OFF TO A SOGGY START
PEOPLE COWERED UNDER THEIR RAIN PONCHOS DURING MUCH OF THE CEREMONYPEOPLE COWERED UNDER THEIR RAIN PONCHOS DURING MUCH OF THE CEREMONY

But then, almost miraculously, as the graduates were about to be called to receive their diplomas, the rain stopped.   People started to fold up their umbrellas and look up to the sky.  What we all saw was stunning.  Not only had the rain stopped, but the clouds had started to part as if they collectively were the Red Sea, and lo and behold, the sun burst through and shone over the Middlebury graduating class of 2009.  From that moment on, as the graduates received diplomas, threw their caps in the air and began their celebration, the sun took over and there was nothing but blue sky to provide its backdrop.  It was an incredible turn of events.

The symbolism of that moment was unmistakable and dramatic.  And we all talked about it openly, not only amongst ourselves, but with all the other parents and students we didn’t even know.  The sign was clear- for each of the members of the Middlebury class of 2009, the future was bright, the possibilities were endless, and the world was their oyster.  The nation was in the grip of a severe recession at that moment, but just as the sun broke through right when these young people were receiving the document that signified their entrance into the real world, they too would break free from this bleak economy and lead us all into a bright future.  The whole scene was beautiful.

It was all bright and sunny by the time they became graduates

For the vast majority of the class of 2009, I’m sure that the sign received back then has turned out to be full of truth and very real.  For Jeff and our family, however, it was simply an illusion, and 18 months later, he was gone.  But there was no danger back then in our choosing to believe that there was some great meaning behind the abrupt weather change that day.  Quite the contrary, why shouldn’t we always choose the optimistic view whenever we can?  It may not work out, but the worst possible outcome of believing in a positive sign is that you suffer a disappointment.  And I had not, until writing this blog post, ever even thought about that 2009 moment in relation to Jeff’s tragic decision.  So there was no harm in believing at the time.

In fact, by taking a positive approach, I believe we maximize our chances of a good sign becoming a self fulfilling prophecy, thus leading to a successful result.  And for the first 16 months after Jeff graduated, it sure seemed like he was a poster child for the “sign” of May 24, 2009.  He was road tripping to Key West with his best buddies, then starting his first full-time job, partying with his friends, blogging his heart out (http://jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com/), and basically living the dream.  A brutal stretch at work and some misprescribed meds later, Jeff decided that there was no longer any brightness in his future, and his life came crashing down in two short months.

Jeff blogs text

Therefore, Jeff is also a poster child for the real danger that lies in latching onto negative signs, extrapolating their meaning into the future, and in doing so, coming to incorrect and often absurd conclusions.  That is precisely what Jeff did, and the consequences were fatal.  And though there is no doubt in my mind that the meds are what created that distorted mindset in Jeff, there is a lesson in this for everyone.  The lesson is to dismiss seemingly bad signs as nothing more than part of life’s everyday ebbs and flows.  Yes, it sucked that the November 2nd, 2010 Knicks game that Jeff and Julie Parise were excited to attend was canceled, but for Jeff to elevate the significance of that occurrence into anything more than it was—namely, that some asbestos fell from the Garden ceiling– was just plain wrong and misguided.  

DSC02821

Picture of Knicks cancellation sign

The final straws, of course, occurred on November 9th, 2010, and I’ve already written about them in detail (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/a-day-late-and-a-dollar-short-the-tragedy-of-november-9th/).  Jeff was on his way to seek help when an unthinkable sequence of events prevented him from getting there.  Was it a one-in-a-million type of situation that unfolded that day?  Absolutely.  Would it have frustrated the hell out of any one of us if we had gone through it?  Yes.  Notwithstanding all of what occurred, should Jeff have simply shaken it off and gone back for his rescheduled 3:30 appointment with the behavioral therapist?  Of course.

But instead, he took the events of that day as a sign that life was just not meant to work out for him.  It doesn’t get more tragic than that.  And so I close by restating and reinforcing the lessons we’ve learned through our tragedy.  If you see something good out there that you believe portends positive things for your future- grab that sign, hold on to it, and go with it as far as it will take you.  If, however, things happen on a given day that somehow convince the pessimist in you that your future will not be bright, fight that feeling with ferocity and ignore the so-called negative sign.  That type of sign is nothing more than a distraction.  We all shape our own destinies and make our own breaks.  Negative signs are creations of our imagination, and as our family so painfully learned from Jeff’s last days, the failure to dismiss them as such can be at best dangerous, and in the worst case, fatal.  If this blog post can persuade even one person to heed this warning and learn from Jeff’s horrific mistake, I know that my son in Heaven will breathe a sigh of relief. 

-Rich Klein