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There Are Still No Words

9 Nov

But a new set of pictures continues to tell the story of a joyous life and keeps Jeff’s memory burning bright…

is a little nervous that the rethugs are gonna rig the polls again, but otherwise is looking forward to an Obama landslide. Nov. 4 can’t come soon enough.

“The reality is that we don’t forget, move on, and have closure, but rather we honor, we remember, and incorporate our deceased children and siblings into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey.” ~ Harriet Schiff, author of The Bereaved Parent

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Talkin’ Baseball With Jeff

13 Aug

“Let’s be clear about something at the outset: this is not the bizzaro Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce play. This is not an egregiously bad call that should have anyone renting one’s garments nor gnashing one’s teeth.  But it is inescapable. Johan Santana caught a lucky break on a missed call in the sixth inning of last night’s no hitter that, if called correctly, would have ended it right there.”

nbcsports.com, June 2, 2012

Dear Jeff,

It was exactly one year ago today that, as I sat between Drew and Brett at Yankee Stadium during a game against the Rays, I heard your voice in my right ear as Eric Chavez walked to the plate, and you told me that Chavez was going to walk and then Jorgie was going to juice one for a grand slam homer (See “My Precious Birthday Gift From Heaven”, August 17, 2011).  I promptly relayed that information to your brothers, and we proceeded to watch Chavez walk on four pitches and Posada (“Jorgie”) blast said grand slam into the right field seats on the third pitch he saw from Brandon Gomes.  It was exhilarating, and I was deeply grateful for that contact from you with such an amazing heads up on a great Yankees moment.

I always found it interesting that, as a player, basketball was clearly your best sport, but as a fan, baseball was right up there with it as your favorite sport to watch and follow.  That is why I chose to surprise you with a trip to see three different baseball games at out of town parks for your 16th birthday.  You always thought that going to different baseball stadiums was even more fun than going to other basketball arenas. Your greatest thrill on that trip was nabbing a foul ball off the bat of Ivan Rodriguez of the Marlins when we were at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia watching their game against the Phillies.  That ball, on which you wrote “Phillies vs. Marlins, 4/17/03. ‘I-Rod'” still sits in a plastic case on your dresser.

As we make our way through another exciting baseball season, I continue to miss how you used to email me frequently with various fun facts and observations on what was going on with the Yankees and in the baseball world generally.  Thankfully, Drew and Brett are also huge fans, and we have been watching many games together.

When you first went off to Middlebury in 2005, your biggest concern didn’t include the normal ones such as whether you’d be homesick or how the adjustment would be, or whether you’d make friends, etc.  You knew that would all be ok. Instead, you were most worried about whether your initial workload would interfere with the Yankees’ playoff games that fall and prevent you from kicking back and watching them.  Remember this email you sent me on October 5th, 2005?:

“I’m so excited to watch the Yankees this week, and my workload couldn’t have declined at a better time.  I had a math test on Thursday, French test yesterday, had a history paper due yesterday, and turned in my English paper today.  Which means I only have easy work to do the rest of this week (math problems, French exercises, etc.).  So it should be fun.”

I’m sure what you considered “easy work” would have been extremely difficult for the rest of us mere academic mortals, but if it was easy for you and enabled you to watch the playoff games, that’s all that mattered.

Jeff and AB

In the fall of 2006, right after you were given your own sports column in The Middlebury Campus, which you called “J.K. Rolling”, I was not surprised that you chose to write a National League playoff preview for your first article.  You were so excited about it that, on September 11th, 2006, you sent me a draft to critique prior to your submitting it.   I loved it but pointed out a slight error in something you had written about the Padres.  Your response was great and reflected your excitement at becoming a regular columnist:

“Haha I definitely was aware of that Padres thing, and honestly I knew you were going to notice it, so I just figured I’d let you find it.  Anyway it was so much fun writing the article.  I’m going to love this job, especially seeing my articles in the paper every week.”

You were so knowledgeable about the game of baseball that I always sought out your opinions.  On September 21st, 2007 I asked if you were upset about Joe Torre leaving the Yankees.  As always, you had read up on the topic and had formed a strong opinion, which you emailed back to me:

“No, I’m not really upset about Torre.  The more columns I read, the more I’m convinced that he was just an ordinary manager, not an amazing one.  Sure, he handled the media well, but he overused young pitchers and didn’t always make the best situational decisions.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’m sure Mattingly can do just as well.”

At the time, the media was speculating that Don Mattingly, not Joe Girardi, would succeed Torre, but Girardi got the nod.

You always watched Yankee managers with a critical eye.  Even during their championship run in 2009, you kept Joe Girardi on the hot seat.  On October 20th, 2009, the morning after the Yankees lost Game 3 of the ALCS in 11 innings to the Angels, you kept me up to date on your reservations about the Yankee manager:

“There has been a ton of commentary today about Girardi’s overmanaging, not just last night, but throughout the entire season.  Here are two articles about that:

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2009/columns/story?columnist=caple_jim&id=4578898

 http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/2009/10/20/2009-10-20_lupica_girardi.html

Just four minutes before the email about Girardi, you sent me this gem:

I had not heard that wild claim about such an upstanding citizen, but of course you immediately sent me the article you had read.

I loved how you always found a way to stay connected with your Yankees regardless of where you were, including during your semester abroad in London in the fall of 2007.  I got such a kick out of your email from September 21st, just a week after you had arrived over there for the semester:

“Right now I’m watching the Yankee game on my newly-working MLB TV.  It was a pitcher’s duel until Wang just gave up a frustrating two runs.”

For some reason, you always had it out for Wang.  Not long after the 2009 season started, on April 14th, you sent me this rando fun fact:

He probably had a couple of bad starts to open the season, and you were already on the poor guy’s case.  But you obviously sensed that this was a harbinger of things to come, and you were right.  He finished an injury-shortened season with a 1-6 record and an ERA of 9.64 (better than the 29 you referenced but still pretty awful).

Then again, you never had much tolerance for Yankee pitchers who were showered with big money to come play in New York and then never lived up to their billing.  Kyle Farnsworth was one such guy.  The flame throwing right hander seemingly had all the tools, but for whatever reason, he was a complete bust for the Yanks.  With every poor performance, your patience wore thinner. So you were overjoyed when he was finally traded in July of 2008.  The funniest thing, though, was how you stayed on his case even into the next season, when he wasn’t even in New York!  Remember the email you sent me on April 20th, 2009?

“Kyle Farnsworth has already been awful for his new team, accounting for 3 of the Royals’ 5 losses on the season (including two walk-off homers).”

Hilarious, Jeff.  George Steinbrenner would have loved having a tough General Manager like you.

I also remember how much you loved All-Star games in any sport and how we always talked about going to one someday.  Even though we never quite made it to one, (although you knew I had bought tickets for us for the 2011 NBA All-Star game two months before you died), you never missed watching one.  During the summer of 2008, when you were living and working in Boston, you sent me this email on July 14th, 2008 about the homerun derby:

“Wow, I can’t believe Justin Morneau stole the spotlight and won after Hamilton’s heroics!  Also, I don’t know how closely you were watching the HR derby, but I garnered pieces of information from the ESPN message boards and wondered if you saw…

1) A policeman choke a kid (who presumably ran on the field) during the derby that got caught on live TV?  Bloggers were screaming that it was yet another instance of police brutality.

2) Announcer Rick Reilly make a racist comment about the all-white participants?”

I loved how you once connected one of our baseball conversations to one of your NBA conspiracy theories.  Do you remember your response to me on May 7th, 2009 after I emailed you the news that Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for steroid use?  You wrote:

“I know, I saw that this morning and was shocked—not so much because I didn’t think he would ever use PED’s, but because the league actually took unfavorable action on one of its star players.  I feel like if it was the NBA and Kobe or LeBron got caught using a banned substance, the league would sweep it under the rug.”

More than anything, Jeff, I miss the raw passion of your beliefs and how you expressed them.  The best baseball example occurred not long before you inexplicably decided to leave us.  On June 2nd, 2010, umpire Jim Joyce made one of the worst calls in baseball history when he called Indians’ batter Jason Donald safe at first with two outs in the ninth in a game against the Tigers. Replays showed that he was out by a mile. Had the correct “out” call been made, Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galaragga would have pitched a perfect no-hit game and achieved baseball immortality.

You were enraged, though interestingly, not at the umpire.  Instead, the next day you took to your Talkin’ Sports blog (www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com) and banged out a post, entitled “Bud Selig Strikes Out…Again”, in which you railed at Commissioner Bud Selig’s decision to NOT officially reverse the blown call and award Galaragga the perfect game, as scores of fans and reporters had demanded.  You wrote:

“One of the worst calls in the history of sports has been cemented by possibly the worst decision in the history of sports.” You ended the 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.”

Also that day, you went out and bought the New York Post, whose back page headline screamed, “Perfect Crime.”  You cut out that entire back page and tacked it to the wall in your room, where it remains today and will always stay as long as we live here. 

How ironic it is that almost exactly two years later, on June 1st of this year, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history, but only because of a blown call in his favor.  Carlos Beltran scorched a line drive over third base that was ruled a foul ball.  It was clearly a fair ball.  He then grounded out.  I could almost hear you teasing Elon about how fitting it was that even when a New York Mets pitcher finally throws a no-hitter for the first time in the team’s 50 year history, it only happened due to a bad call.  I even visited your Talkin’ Sports blog, fantasizing that somehow you would find a way to post on this story from Heaven.  You didn’t.

And so here we are, Jeff, with the Yankees in first place again and potentially on their way to big things this postseason.  I am thankful that you were here to enjoy the 2009 championship and the wild parade that followed, but I so miss your emails and texts that used to keep me up to date on every aspect of the baseball world.  I’d give anything to know what you think of this season’s new playoff system, especially the one game wildcard round.  And what about the Washington Nationals’ rise to the top of the NL East?  The incredible story of the Mets’ R.A. Dickey? The comeback of Andy Pettitte?  Santana’s faux “no-hitter”?  The Yankees’ trade for Ichiro?

Although I’ll never know for certain what your views are on these things, speculating about them keeps me thinking about you in a productive way and keeps my mind away from the dark nature of what you did.  It’s the only way for me to march forward, and so I’ll sign off now and look forward to watching the Yankees open a four game set tonight against the Rangers.  And when Josh Hamilton steps to the plate for Texas, I’ll think back to that happier time in the summer of 2008 when you sent me the email about Hamilton’s homerun derby heroics.  Then the tears will inevitably come, and I’ll resume my daily battle to stay strong.

Enjoy tonight’s game from up there, son, and I send all my love,

Dad

Baseball Fever: When Jeff Fumed Over A Yankees First Round Loss To The Tigers

15 Apr

On Friday afternoon, October 6, 2006, Carey, Drew, Brett and I got in the car and excitedly headed up to Middlebury for family weekend.  Having just started his sophomore year, Jeff was already a Midd veteran, and we were all looking forward to a relaxing weekend, including attending the Saturday football game, having a couple of nice dinners with Jeff, and enjoying the beautiful Middlebury landscape.

Jeff, however, had at least one other important event in mind for us that Saturday.  Our Yankees were in trouble, down 2 games to 1 in their first round playoff series against the Detroit Tigers, and one more loss would mean their elimination.  So on Saturday after the football game, Jeff led us all to The Grille to watch the 4:30 game on the big screen.  After watching Middlebury eke out a 7-3 victory over Amherst to remain unbeaten at 3-0, watching the Yankees try to also emerge victorious seemed like the perfect thing to do.

GO YANKEES

The problem, however, was that by the fifth inning, the Yankees were already losing 7-0 en route to an 8-3 embarrassing loss that ended their season.  Jeff was beside himself, absolutely fuming, and I saw his face turn beet red as early as the 2nd inning, when the Tigers took a 3-0 lead.  He could not fathom how this storied franchise could exit the playoffs so meekly in the first round.  I knew right then that the J.K. Rolling column of The Middlebury Campus would be filled with Jeff’s rage that coming week.

 

Jeff was not in a good mood after the Yankees went quietly against the Tigers in '06

 

And sure enough, when the paper came out a couple of days later, on October 9, 2006, that was absolutely the case.  Jeff vented all his frustrations and pulled no punches, and the result was the following article.  If he was with us this past October, when the Yankees again suffered a first round defeat at the hands of those very same Tigers, I’m sure his reaction would have been very similar to what he expressed in 2006.

 

        “What an incredible disappointment. The New York Yankees, widely predicted to motor through the playoffs and win their first World Series in six years, couldn’t even make it out of the first round as they were eliminated in four games by the Detroit Tigers.

          In the game that sealed the deal for Detroit, the Yankees didn’t even resemble the team that finished tied for the best record in baseball. Their batting lineup was absolutely abominable and didn’t muster a hit until the sixth inning. Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman is a good pitcher, not an all-star. But the way the Yankees played against him, you’d think he was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.

          In the four game series, the Yankees hit .246 and scored a pathetic 3.5 runs per game, compared with a .285 batting average and 5.74 runs per game during the regular season. But what angers me the most is that in Game 4, the Yankees’ hitters displayed absolutely no intelligence at the plate. A team that prides itself on being patient and working the count looked more like a bunch of overanxious rookies, hacking wildly at every pitch they saw. Through the first five innings, Bonderman only had to throw 40 pitches. That’s an embarrassment. Gary Sheffield had two of the ugliest strikeouts I’ve ever seen, futilely waving at pitches over in the next zip code. Even Jeter, usually calm and poised at the plate, swung wildly at a pitch in the dirt and struck out.

          The pitching was horrible too. Jaret Wright threw a decent game – in the first inning. It all unraveled after that, starting with a meatball right over the middle in the bottom of the second that Magglio Ordonez absolutely crushed. Watching the game, I remember thinking to myself: how could Wright have missed so badly with that pitch? Posada’s glove was down and away, and Wright throws the ball right over the heart of the plate. You can’t make that mistake in postseason play. Another horrible pitch to Craig Monroe later in the inning and it was 3-0.

          Why didn’t the Yankees show up to play? Why did a team that crushed Detroit in Game 1 completely fold after that? I really don’t have an answer. I can guarantee, though, that owner George Steinbrenner is going to have some serious problems with it and will act accordingly. Rumors are already circulating that manager Joe Torre is done. Several teams have expressed interest in A-Rod, and I’m sure GM Brian Cashman will be more than happy to ship him and his chronic postseason failures out of New York. I know I would. There are really no limits as to the amount of change this team will undergo over the course of the winter, and frankly, there shouldn’t be any.

          This Yankees defeat confirmed that their current strategy of stockpiling a lineup of all-stars and relying on shaky veteran pitching to win in the playoffs does not work. Period. So the Yankees’ front office better figure out a viable long-term plan. Because right now, the world’s most storied sports franchise is in complete disarray.” 

The Not So Amazin’ New York Metropolitans

4 Dec

The Mets use to have a saying - "we can't lose if it is raining."

As Kleinsaucer readers are probably aware, Jeff was an avid sports fan, and a gifted writer. He had a blog, Talkin’ Sports, where he would write his thoughts about trends in sports, most memorably about his disdain for David Stern, NBA’s Commisioner. He also was a sports writer for Middlebury’s newspaper. I always admired his passion for sports, and how he translated this into flawless prose. (It’s not hard to believe this given how well Rich writes. As AB says, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”)

So, out of respect for Jeff, I thought I’d chime in on the New York Metropolitans.  As many of you will probably soon find out or already know, Jose Reyes, a homegrown All-Star Shortstop, signed with the Marlins for 6 years, 106 million.

To put this in context, Jose Reyes leaving the Mets is similar to LeBron James leaving the Cavs (you can read Jeff’s reaction to the Lebron signing here). The difference is that the Cavs had a spine, and gave their best shot to keep LeBron. The Mets, on the other hand, are spineless and heartless. I never thought I’d say it, but Jeff was right, I should have been a Yankees fan.

Fans of this “franchise” know how hard it is to root for this team:

Late Season Collapses

The Mets had historic late season collapses in 2007 and 2008.

Horrendous Signings

Bonilla signed a 5 year, $29 million contract in 1992 with the Mets. His production didn't measure up to the contract, and Mets fans consider it one of the worst signings in franchise history.

Egregious Errors

Luis Castillo dropped an easy pop up on June 13, 2009 in a Subway Series game with the Yankees, costing the Mets the game.

Questionable Management

The Willie Randolph hiring for the 2005 season didn't end so well after several disappointing seasons.

And, while it has been tough, we could still wake up in the morning and look ourselves in the eye. While we did not have luck, we always had heart.

An unofficial Mets motto is "Ya Gotta Believe." After tonight, I don't believe Mets' Ownership could dare allow Reyes to leave.

What transpired tonight is unforgivable. Since most of the readers are probably (and rightfully) Yankees fans, think of Derek Jeter at 28 going to the Blue Jays or Orioles (I don’t say the Red Sox, because the Marlins are like the Mets’ Blue Jays) for slightly above market value (I’d say somewhere in the ballpark of 20-21 million a year). How would you feel? Reyes left not because of an outrageous contract demand, but because ownership’s unwillingness to spend any money. If Reyes signed a 6 year, 120 million dollar contract, I may be more forgiving. But he didn’t. The Mets will pay 15 million a year for Jason Bay, but not 17.5 million a year for Jose Reyes?!? Are you kidding me?!?

As Jeff would say, being a sports fan is not as mundane as it sounds. With an allegiance comes passion, heart and commitment. I’m through. What Wilpon is doing to this franchise is criminal. And, to take a card from Jeff’s playbook, Bud Selig, MLB’s Commissioner, should stop helping Wilpon vis-à-vis loans and other financial support. If he knows what is best, he will quietly pressure the Wilpons to sell the Mets, and restore dignity to this New York Franchise. I will not support this circus as long as the Wilpons continue to own this team.

On a larger note, Jeff taught me the value of passion. It’s important to be passionate about the things you care about. I am not saying it should rise to the level of hubris or arrogance, but passion is what gives color to the world. It’s a shame that I will not wake up tomorrow morning to read Jeff’s take on this sports travesty. I write this post in his honor.

Lonnie

A Winter Storm In October Adds To The Harsh Winds Of Autumn

30 Oct

This used to be my favorite time of year, when the temperatures cool down, the air becomes crisp, there are a few days of Indian Summer that tempt you to head back to the beach, and the colors are breathtaking in New York’s northern suburbs.

But as I walked our dogs over the weekend of October 15th, the strong, harsh winds on both those days blew in the painful memories of autumn a year ago.  Walking into the wind, it felt as if I was taking a peppering of left jabs to the face as I recalled the exact two month period to which I’ve made reference many times on this blog, from September 9th to November 9th of 2010, when Jeff’s morale took a turn for the worse and never recovered.

And as if that’s not enough, I am looking outside at close to a foot of snow on our deck, the result of the first winter storm of this magnitude in October since 1869.  The meteorologists call it a “perfect storm”, an anomalous confluence of events that may never occur together again for another 150 years.  I call it cruel.  And bitterly ironic.

My backyard-October 29, 2011

It is ironic because just one year ago, it was exactly the same type of “perfect storm” and bizarre confluence of events that led to Jeff’s tragic demise.  The combination of a brutal job that he could no longer stand, a flawed decision to try medication and a decision made too late to cease taking those meds, created the tempest that proved to be too daunting for Jeff to withstand.  I’d even include an inexplicably postponed Knick game that Jeff was scheduled to attend on November 2nd as part of the devastating mix.

Perhaps an even greater irony is that Jeff would have LOVED yesterday’s snow storm, and thus, there is no doubt in either Carey’s or my mind that his spirit had a hand in this.  He lived for snow days from school, but even more than that, he got huge thrills from highly unusual, once-in-a-lifetime events like this.  He would have been tracking this storm from the first mention of it, and he would now be telling us all the trivia facts related to it, such as the fact that nothing like this has happened since 1869.  I truly loved seeing the joy he got from unique situations and events.  For us, though, this damaging storm only contributes to the rehashing of the dark memories of last autumn.

It was October 25th of last year that Jeff completed the one week process of being weaned off the misprescribed meds that he was fed by a psychiatrist who didn’t take the proper time to understand and diagnose the problem before throwing pills at it.  We were so hopeful that this weaning process would lift the cloud that had formed around his head, but apparently this stuff takes time to completely leave your system and two weeks later, that time had run out.  Jeff apparently couldn’t wait any longer.  Suffice to say I will never again let anybody that I love or care about take such medication, to the extent I can control the situation.

Perhaps the most confounding, and in some way comforting thing about Autumn 2010 is that, despite the struggles, there were some really good times for Jeff during that period.  Here’s an example. 

Every September, on the third Tuesday of the month, one of my clients hosts a golf tournament outside of Boston.  Since I don’t play very much during the year, I usually try to make a couple of trips to a local driving range before the outing to get ready.  Last year, I asked Jeff to come with me on the two consecutive weekends before the tournament, and he readily agreed (as Brooke rightly says, if Jeff was free, he was always down for anything).

I have such great memories of those two days at the driving range.  You have to understand that Jeff probably never played a full round of golf in his life.  But the sight of this big, strong young man crushing ball after ball off the tee and watching most of them soar straight-as-an-arrow into the distance was hilarious.  Jeff didn’t really know the “proper” way to swing the club, but his instinctive swing worked just fine.  We were both laughing at the stark contrast between his great shots and my not so great ones, most of which went anywhere but straight and certainly didn’t have the distance of his.

I was both happy and flattered that Jeff agreed to go with me on that first Sunday, September 12th, because the Giants had a 1pm game against the Panthers.  To be sure, he followed the game’s progress on his phone between shots, and after we hit three buckets, he was ready to go home and catch the second half on TV, but the fact that he was willing to miss the first half to hit balls with his Dad was an awesome feeling for me.  My thoughts driving home that day were: great time, Jeff was relaxed and having fun, totally engaged and into the Giants, and he was going to be just fine.  And we repeated this scene the next Sunday, which was another terrific time.

The memory of that great time with Jeff is what made this September so difficult to handle.  Before this year’s tournament, I skipped the driving range preparation.  With Drew away at school and Brett having to focus on college applications on the weekends, it would have been too excruciating to go alone, accompanied only by memories.  In fact, I don’t think I can ever go back there again.

From golf, it was on to tennis for Jeff, as he really got into the sport again last fall at the urging of his friend Dan Reisner.  I am grateful to Dan, who encouraged Jeff to become a member of the USTA (United States Tennis Association) so they could enter tournaments together, and they did.  Jeff, a former Horace Greeley varsity tennis player, had a great time with it.  I’ll never forget that when Jeff’s Greeley tennis coach got up at the 2005 Senior Athletic Awards Dinner to talk about his team, he said “Jeff is definitely the fittest athlete on the team, and he gets to absolutely every ball !” As a periodic tennis opponent of Jeff’s, I can vouch for that being so true.  Once he turned 15, I never beat him again.

One of  the best weekends of last fall for Jeff began on Friday, October 15th, which is when Drew came home for his October break, and Jeff was scheduled to play in his first USTA tournament that night.  Jeff came home after his match all pumped up that he had won, and he was then ready to kick back with Drew and me, and watch Game 1 of the ALCS between the Yankees and Rangers.  And what a time we had.  The three of us made the house shake with our screams when the Yankees, down 5-1, roared back with 5 runs in the top of the 8th to win 6-5. 

Although Jeff lost his next match the following evening, it was close, and he enjoyed the competition.  And to close out the weekend in style, he and his wonderful friends, Ryan and Lisa, went to the Giants game on Sunday Oct. 17th.  I really thought weekends like that would significantly improve his outlook on life.

Jeff went to two Giants games during his final autumn

Two weekends later, we went as a family to the Knicks home opener on Saturday night, with Jeff decked out in his police uniform Halloween costume that he was wearing for his friends’ party after the game.  I’ll never forget that on our drive in to the city, I glanced at Jeff in the back seat of the car, and he was looking intently at something on his phone screen.  It turns out that he was checking to see if his LSAT score had been posted.  It had, and a big smile crossed his face, as he told us his score.  He did well.  Very well.  And I prayed that this was the spark he needed to turn things around and to realize he had the ability to do anything he wanted in life.  I mean, he excelled on the LSAT while in a crappy state of mind and on meds.  I thought that was pretty damn impressive.  Can you imagine what this kid could do under a more normal set of circumstances ?

As we walked toward the Garden from the parking garage, I pulled Jeff aside and said, “Now tell me the truth, don’t you feel a sense of satisfaction at achieving this kind of success?”  He flashed that great Jeff smile and he acknowledged to me that he did feel really good about it.  I told him that even if he decided not to apply to law school, the point remained that he could do anything he put his mind to.  He agreed.  But like most of his good moments last fall, this one was fleeting, and he was not able to sustain the positive momentum. 

I believe that during this period, Jeff took things that happened as signs or omens, either good or bad.  I further believe that he took what happened on November 2nd a year ago as one such ominous sign and that it may have sealed his fate in his clouded mind at the time.  He had been very much looking forward to taking Brooke and Julie to the Knicks game that night, both because he hadn’t seen them in a while and because he loved the thought of taking them to their first ever NBA game.  He was anxious to show them the ropes, as they say, and make them big Knicks fans.

I was riding Amtrak home from my business meeting in Philadelphia that afternoon when Carey called to tell me that the game had been postponed indefinitely due to a problem with asbestos falling from the roof of the Garden.  WHAT???  That can’t be right, I told her.  I mean, the last time a Knicks home game was postponed was almost 15 years ago, on January 7, 1996 due to a snowstorm. The last time a Knicks home game was postponed for a non-weather reason was in December 1965 when a game against the 76ers was rescheduled after the death of the 76ers owner, Ike Richman.

I could tell that evening that Jeff was extremely disappointed, and although I told him he could take them to any future game he wanted with our tickets, he still took this postponement very hard.  He seemed to feel that Murphy’s law was operating in full force and that anything that could go wrong was going wrong for him.

The rest of that week was rough.  I remember one night I walked into Jeff’s room to give him a hug goodnight, which I always do when my boys are home.  On this night, he gave me a particularly strong hug and said:

“I don’t know what I would do without you, Sir.”

I replied almost incredulously, “But isn’t that the beautiful thing, Jeff ?  You don’t have to do without me.  Ever.”

He KNEW that, but it bore repeating at that moment.  And he then hugged even a bit tighter, and I felt his head shaking “yes” on my shoulder.  Why it ultimately wasn’t enough that his entire family was there for him, enveloping him in our love, is something I will never comprehend.

Drew was recently home for a few days on this year’s October break from school.  His presence ushered in a breath of fresh air, helping me combat the harsh winds of autumn.  Thank God for that young man.  With his sense of humor, his incredible strength and his love of family, he is an inspiration to me every single day.  And thank God for Carey, my amazing wife who is successfully waging the fight of her life to stay the course in the face of losing her first born son.  And thank God for our “baby” Brett, who we call our “golden boy” for more reasons than just his blondish hair.  The youngest always remains the baby, even if he is a 6 foot tall bundle of muscle. 

And so we march forward through a season that can never again be my favorite time of year.  Ironically, Jeff used to love this time, and his favorite thing to do every October as a family when the boys were younger (other than watch the Yankees playoff games) was to go apple picking at a local orchard and to enjoy a hay ride and some warm apple cider and sugar donuts while we were there.  And it was there that the boys would choose which pumpkins to buy for the holiday.  This was yet another annual family tradition that Jeff looked forward to, and I think we did it every year until Jeff graduated high school.

Jeff always thoroughly enjoyed Halloween too, whether it was marching in the parade through town as a kid, trick-or-treating through the childhood years (he delighted in counting the individual pieces of candy in his bag to see just how much loot he had raked in), or donning “Scream” masks, a blind referee costume, or other costumes at parties as a young adult.

Yes, that's Jeff, but Carey doesn't seem too scared

Counting his Halloween candy, Jeff's annual ritual

Those are the memories that I pray will one day be swept in by a cool, light autumn breeze.  Right now, though, there are only cruel snow storms and unforgiving winds relentlessly blowing us with terrifying force toward November 9th, the one year anniversary of Jeff’s absurd and tragic decision.

I am unable to stop tormenting myself by wondering what Jeff was thinking that afternoon while he was en route to his final destination.  Did he think of me at all ?  Did he think about those days at the driving range, the apple orchards, amusement parks, Knicks games, Yankees games, family vacations, holiday gatherings, Sunday night family dinners out, our many long talks about life, our one-on-one baseball trip when he turned 16, any of it ?  Or how about the 2+ hours we spent together in his room just the night before, watching Monday Night Football.  Did he think about that ?  These mental ruminations breed feelings of both pain and betrayal that I cannot shake.

There is no way around the agony that surrounds me this season, because I can’t stop thinking about how on this day a year ago- as we drove to Madison Square Garden as a family and Jeff retrieved his LSAT score while wearing a policeman Halloween costume- I didn’t know that we had just 10 days left with our son.  Ten days to talk to, to hug, to love, to enjoy, and to care for the amazing young man who made my dream of fatherhood a beautiful reality for the first time.  There is some comfort in knowing that our family gave Jeff every ounce of our love until his dying day.  We have continued to shower him with love, in our own individual ways, ever since. And we always will. Not even the unfriendly winter storm and autumn winds of 2011, with all the brutal memories of a year ago riding in on their backs, can distract us from doing that.  

-Rich Klein

The Message Is Clear: Yankees Will Regain World Series Crown

29 Sep

“And so it went for the  2011 Red Sox, the biggest chokers of any Boston team in my lifetime.  At least the ’78 Sox fought back and forced a one game playoff;  these guys couldn’t even do that.  They disintegrated over an entire month, day after day after day.  You can’t even explain how brutal they were unless you followed the free fall firsthand…

Their body language grew progressively worse as the month dragged on, with their manager seeming more hopeless and desperate than anyone.  They blew basic baseball plays, bothched fly balls, dropped relay throws, ended games by getting caught stealing, threw meatballs, bitched at each other, admitted to being scared…you name it, they did it.  They choked away Game 162 by getting three guys thrown out on the basebaths, by blowing a 3-2 lead in the ninth, by botching a season-deciding fly ball…with two outs in the ninth.

You can’t say it was unbelievable, because, actually, it was totally believable.  This was a mercy killing.  At least that’s what I will keep telling myself.  The 2011 Red Sox needed to go away.  And they did.”

-Bill Simmons, Grantland.com, 9/29/11

Dear Jeff,

Bill Simmons was your favorite sports writer, bar none, and when I read this today, all I could think of is that last night, the most magical night in baseball history, was something only you could dream up and orchestrate.  I received several emails today from people, including Drew, saying that they were stunned at how last night had your signature written all over it.   It was surreal, and your man Simmons summed it all up right there.  See what you did to the poor guy ?  He is beside himself !

I vividly remember that one of your favorite all-time Christmas presents was Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball” that you received on your very last Christmas morning in 2009. 

So one night last week, Thursday September 22nd  to be precise, I was driving home from the train station on Douglas Road.  As I always do on the short ride home, and as we always did together last year when we drove home after meeting on the evening train, I turned on the Yankees game on CBS radio with John Sterling and Susan Waldman.  This was the night after the Yankees clinched the AL East on Jorge Posada’s dramatic two run, game winning single. Sure enough, at the moment I turned the game on, Posada was coming to bat.  The following was the exchange between Susan and John.  Although I may not be quoting Susan exactly, it is very close, and John’s response is verbatim:

Susan: “What a magical moment it was for Posada last night here at the Stadium, John, after a really tough season.  And just think of everything that’s happened here at Yankee Stadium this season.  I mean, Jeter didn’t just get his 3,000th hit, he hit a HOME RUN to get it, Mariano became the all-time saves leader here at home as part of another brilliant season at age 41, and Posada, another all-time great Yankee, sends the team to the division title with a clutch hit.  And if that’s not enough, the Red Sox are collapsing before our very eyes !”

John: “Susan, it’s as if all of this is being directed by someone above.”

I swear, I nearly drove off the road.  My first thought was, “Oh shit, Sterling’s on to Jeff.”  But then I said to myself, well so what, what’s he going to do about it ?  When I got home, I literally sprinted into the kitchen and told Mom and Brett what John had just said.  Mom, the non-sports fan that she is, kind of ignored it, but Brett broke into a broad smile and just shook his head ‘yes’ in a knowing way.

In my April 9th blog post (“Why Are You Going To Boston, Daddy?”), I noted that it was a sign of your presence that, in your first season in Heaven, the Red Sox started 0-6 for the first time since 1945. It was really quite amazing that it happened after the free agent shopping spree the Sox went on in the off-season to set themselves up nicely for another championship.

But then I got confused when they stormed all the way back and actually sat atop the AL East for almost the entire season.  Now of course, it is so clear to me that this was your grand plan all along- have them get off to a miserable start to shake their confidence, let them enjoy a surging comeback all the way to the top, and then have them endure one of the greatest collapses in baseball history.  Brilliant.  You set them up for The Great Collapse.  Oh, I can just picture your face as you’ve watched this unfold. 

I know that the one thing that probably gives you a little pause in orchestrating this devastating ending for the Red Sox season is that your great friend from Middlebury, Dan Roberts, is a big Sox fan.  But I also remember what you said to me one time when we were discussing how many of your Midd friends were from the Boston area and loved to root against the Yankees.  “Dad, when it comes to Yankees-Red Sox, all’s fair in love and war.” 

The door to Jeff's room makes clear who his favorite sports teams are

Well, Jeff, I want to let you know that I saw and heard you loud and clear in my dream this Monday night.  You looked so good, and I am deeply grateful that you made contact with me again so soon after the Yankees game in August.  And yes, as you requested, I will let everyone know that the Yankees will win it all this year, their 28thWorld Series championship.  You said that their playoff run will be led by the great Yankee veterans but also that Jesus Montero will show that he is a “true Yankee” by doing some special things to contribute to the victory.  Sounds amazing.  I’ll pass the word along.

And I promise to tell your buddy Alex Feintuch what you said- that you want him to go to the victory parade and that, while you wish you could go with him again, I should join him this time, in your place.  I love Alex and think he’s a great young man, and so I’d be happy to do it.  I’m pretty sure that he will be down in South Carolina at school at that time, but I’ll convey your wishes.  I know how much fun you two had at the parade in 2009.  I don’t know if I can slip away from work for a whole day either, but let’s make sure they win first, and then we’ll figure it out.

I don’t know, man, it pains me to say that I really disagree.  I think the Phillies look too tough if the Yankees make it to the Series, and to be honest, I’m not even that confident that the Yankees can take the Tigers, because Verlander will pitch at least games 1 and 4 in the first round.

But hey, whenever we disagreed about sports when you were here, you were always right.  Let’s hope that streak continues.  And I must say, it sure seems as if you have had a major role in all that has happened, as John Sterling hinted last week.  Certainly, the victories of UConn in April and the Mavericks in June had your fingerprints all over them.  And last night ?  Oh my, I am still shaking at the thought of how the Yanks blew a 7-0 lead and how Boston’s ace closer, Mr. Papelbon, blew the save after striking out the first two batters !  And the two games ended within 3 minutes of each other.  You obviously drew up your wildest dream and willed it to happen. 

Jeff hung the newspaper celebrating the Yankees' 2009 championship on his wall, where it remains today

It is brutally painful to know that you won’t be here to watch the playoffs with us this year or ever again.  Drew will be at school, so I know we’ll be texting away with each other.  He’ll be home for a few days during October break, and we’ll be watching together then if the Yanks are still in it.  I’ve got Brett here at home for one more playoff run, so I will waive the unofficial rule of his having to go to bed on school nights by a certain hour.  We always have such a great time watching together, and he is just as big of a Yankees fan as you are.

But it was just a year ago, even when you were struggling, that you and I enjoyed being together in the upstairs TV room, watching the games on the big screen with our feet up.  You were always banging away on your laptop during the games, communicating with your friends on Facebook;  I’m sure you were providing a running commentary and analysis of what was happening.   But less than three weeks after the Yankees were eliminated by Texas, you were gone.

The Yankees calendar on Jeff's bulletin board- still on November 2010

So now what I’m left with is periodic communication from you at your whim- your voice in my right ear on August 13th telling me that Chavez was going to walk and then Jorgie was going to juice one, or in a dream like Monday night, telling me to spread the word of the Yankees’ impending championship.  I guess in life, you have to take what you can get and be grateful for it, and so I am.  In fact, I pray every day for any form of contact from you whatsoever.  So please keep it coming.  

In the meantime, line up those beers with the pretzel rods, and enjoy the playoffs, my son.  The Yankees’ annual quest for a championship was always one of yours and my favorite times of the year.  I remain excited about it, but as with everything in my life, it can never again be quite the same. 

All my love,

Sir