Monday, December 31, 2012

My Man, Dick Clark!

I know I’m going to shed a tear tonight. I feel myself welling up already and I’ve been thinking about this day since I heard the news that Dick Clark died. Dick Clark was New Year’s Eve to me. I watched Dick Clark on New Year’s Eve ever since my parents allowed me to stay up and watch the celebration at the age of twelve in 1970. As a teenager, no matter what slamming party my friends and I were at, at 11:45 the party stopped and all eyes were focused on the TV, Dick Clark and the big ball that was about to drop to welcome in the New Year. Millions of other party guests, club hoppers and just plain folks sitting in front of the TV were tuned in all over America to watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve.

In my twenties, I would be at a nightclub or house party and the same thing would occur. All activity would stop until Mr. Clark said “Happy New Year.” It didn’t matter to me that people in other parts of the world either had celebrated or were preparing to celebrate the New Year based upon the time zone that they were in. In my mind, the New Year wasn’t officially the New Year until Dick Clark made the official announcement. 

As I’ve gotten older and people have become crazier, I found myself going out less on New Year’s Eve.  For the last twelve or so years, I’ve relegated myself to either having a few friends over for some homemade gumbo (created by yours truly) and a full bar or sitting up with my family enjoying the festivities sipping on my favorite cognac over ice, Martell Cordon Bleu. Whatever the case has been, I never missed Dick Clark ringing in the New Year; except the one year I got cajoled and harassed by my family into attending church on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t get out of service until 2 in the morning! 

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve (which will continue with Dick Clark’s co-host Ryan Seacrest) was the epitome of what a New Year’s celebration should be. It had glamor. It had big stars, and it gave us new stars and one hit wonders. It was hip and square at the same time. Grandma could watch it with the Junior Mafia and both would be entertained. Only Dick Clark could transcend race, culture, musical genres, politics and the great ethnic divide that exists in America and bring us all together as one to celebrate the promise of another new year in America. 

I offer my best wishes to Ryan Seacrest on the continuation of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve. He has humongous shoes to fill; just like Kobe had to do when Jordan retired (sorry Lebron). Mr. Seacrest will do fine and in a few years I will probably feel good about tuning in to see him bring in the New Year. But this New Year’s Eve… I’ll be missing Dick Clark.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Introduction: The Glass Lot

I often think of my hometown of Berkeley, California; living on Berkeley Way up the street from the Glass Lot Baseball Field. We called it the Glass Lot because it was, to the casual observer a vacant lot of cement, broken glass and occasionally a junked car where winos, addicts and the homeless disposed of their bottles and other trash on a nightly basis. It was also where we played Baseball in the spring, summer, and early fall despite the hazards of broken glass and leftover cement that were remnants of a multi-storied parking lot razed long before I was born. 

The “preseason” usually started in February or at the latest, the first week of March.  Preseason was never planned. Or even discussed. Everyone instinctively knew the day and time the preseason would begin and we would put on our usual baseball attire; jeans, long sleeve t-shirt, Hi-Top Chuck Taylors, baseball cap and enter the Glass Lot and go through the ritual of choosing sides to play the first baseball game of the season. 

Similar to the pros, the preseason was a proving ground for younger players. If you earned the respect of the veterans, you would be assured of playing time throughout the regular season. If you didn’t, you would be relegated to the sidelines or what we called “Scrub” games which were games played by… well, scrubs. Scrub games were often two on two or three on three affairs that were often interrupted when enough real players showed up at the Glass Lot. An announcement would be made by a veteran that “You all need to get off the field” and that would be that. Sides would be chosen and a real game would commence in its place.

The official season opener began on the Sunday when Daylight Savings Time went into effect. The first real game would start after church that Sunday, usually around 2:00 in the afternoon. We kept stats such as homeruns and batting average. Because of the configuration of the field, (center field, right center and left center), we didn’t allow base stealing or leads off of any base. What would normally be left and right on a sandlot baseball field were apartments and the street respectively on the Glass Lot. 

The players rarely changed. They only aged out and would be replaced by someone else that moved into or came up in the neighborhood. If there was a Glass Lot Hall of Fame the names would read as follows: Kenny Cook, Harold Wade, Bernard Williams, Peter, Sandy Jordan, Lawrence “Larry” McGrew, Darwin “Poppa", Juan Hall, and H. J. Williams. 

Between all of us there would be enough bats and baseball gloves to go around. We didn’t live in a poor neighborhood. But food, clothing and other essentials took precedent over athletic attire for most families. So some of us would bring baseball bats, someone would bring the ball, and those that had baseball gloves would bring and share them with the other team when we would change sides.

The games were either nine-inning affairs or the game ended when it became too dark to see the ball. Of course your perspective of when it became dark was dependent upon whether your team was leading or behind at the time the sun was setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

That field of cement and broken glass was our Disneyland. We would “ride” baseball every day for almost eight months; morning, noon, and into the early evening. In the summer time when the days were long, there was a game being played from nine in the morning until nine at night. The games were intense and the trash talking was prevalent. If you were a whiner, you would definitely feel the pain from the other team and the wrath of your teammates for being a wimp.  

There was no quarter given; even to the youngest players on the field. The peer pressure and athleticism of most of the players made you perform at your best every day you were out on that field. You competed with the best of the best and that more than anything else prepared all of us to compete hard to succeed in life.