Matt Mikolaichik

I can’t believe it has been nine years.

I am proud to be Mike’s friend. And I know Matt is proud of him.

…..

I wrote this a while ago, for a friend. I think it deserves a spot here.

It was a warm day for that time of the year. It was one of those fall days where summer refuses to let go its grip. It was a damp day. The turf squished under my cleats as I stepped from the ply wood pathway covering the all-weather track onto the grass for the first time. I began my pre-game routine, which included a suppositious series of running and stretching drills. I slowly worked my way through my routine, preparing myself to play the same way I had for years. I was completely oblivious of what lay before me. I had no idea that this game would be unlike any I had ever played. This day would be unlike any I had ever experienced.

I saw him from a distance. His familiar shape stood out from the other players wearing black and orange. He had gotten bigger in the years since high school, he was however, easily recognizable. He was warming up, throwing with another quarterback. He was near mid-field which made it easy for me to get close enough to greet him. He had his back to me, I saw him before he saw me. I slowly made my way towards the fifty- yard line. I was nervous, I did not know how he was going to receive me. It had been over a year since I had seen him last, and given our current circumstances I did not know what to expect. I hung around mid-field long enough for him to see me. He turned slowly towards me, tears streaming down his face. He looked at me with eyes I had seen for years, standing in a huddle, being told what play we were going to run, or what we were going to do to win this game or that. He had always had a quite confidence. He could step into a huddle, and make every other young man feel that we were going to succeed. Those eyes that were so familiar, were crying. He looked at me and said: “Matt died this morning”.

We were never in the same classes in Elementary School. A football field became the first context in which I defined Mike. We practiced on the fields next to our elementary school. I hated football at first. To say I disliked the contact would be an understatement. I wanted to quit after a week. My father refused to let me quit. My parents had made an exception, allowing me to play a year earlier than they had let my brother. What came so naturally to Mike was a struggle for me. He was the quarterback from as far back as I can remember. I bounced from position to position. Not athletic enough for the skill positions, not big enough for a lineman. Mike looked like he was born to be a quarterback. He was tall and lean, with a strong arm and the head to handle the responsibilities of the position.

I grew to like the contact, with time I learned to relish it. By our freshman year of high school, Mike had spent years honing his skills at one position and I had finally settled into the role of a running back/fullback in what I pictured was the mold of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Mike Alstott. We had different core groups of friends in high school. We played different sports. Mike was an excellent basket ball and baseball player. I ran track in the spring, more to stay in shape than because I was particularly fast. The one thing that kept us united was football. Every summer we would work out at the school together, every August we would grind through double sessions. I bore witness as Mike developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the county.

I felt like the world had stopped spinning, the wind had stopped blowing, for I had stopped breathing. My words died in my chest. I looked into his eyes and felt his heartache. I stood, rooted on the spot. I have no memory of what happened then. My next recollection was back in the locker room. Our team would come together prior to taking the field. Our coach would give us a motivational talk followed by a prayer, and we would take the field. I did not hear a word he said. My head was swimming and I was a whirlwind of emotions. Football is a game that has to be played with a level of intensity not often found in other sports. To be able to throw your body at another human being as hard as one possibly can, you have to take yourself to a mental place that is not reached easily. I had spent the previous week visualizing myself hitting my friend as hard as I could. I had run through potential plays, and watched hours of video studying tendencies. I had spent the last nine years teaching myself to hate my opponents. I had trained my brain to forget logic and reason, to inflict as much punishment as possible, within the context of the game, on another player. Now I sat on one knee, tears streaming down my face, head in hands, forgetting all of that training, ignoring the honed instincts, all I wanted to do was hug my friend.

We took the field, went through our pre-game rituals and were ready for kick off. My dichotomy of emotions was overwhelming. At the time, Brockport had a very good team, and Buffalo State was no match physically. I watched with an increasingly heavy heart as my friend picked himself up off the turf, play after play. I bore witness as he would walk to the sideline series after unsuccessful series, sit on the bench crying until he had to go lead his offense back onto the field. The game quickly got out of hand. I begged my teammates, if they had to hit him, help the man back up. I had never in my life witnessed something so real, so brave, or so heart breaking. He would tell me later that he played because that is what he thought Matt would have wanted. I was speechless.

Our senior season ended disappointingly. We were not as good as either of us had hoped. I was injured in the first round of the playoffs, as was our starting fullback. Without his starting backfield, Mike did all he could, but it was not enough. In high school, we lived or died with the wins and losses, how little we knew. Mike and I both received All-County honors following the season. We were both asked to play in the Eddie Meath All-Star game. I was not surprised that Mike received this honor. I cannot say the same for myself. Mike and I lived around the corner from one another. We would drive to the practices together. We spent more time that week, just the two of us, than we ever had before. Mike and I had never been particularly close friends away from football. Our bond was forged on hot summer days, and wet and cold fall nights. It was cemented on nights like the one our homecoming game was played on. Our field was being dedicated to the previous Athletic Director. In a freezing driving rain, Mike handed the ball to me thirty-six times, we did not mishandle one exchange.

Mike was the unrecognized star of the Eddie Meath game. Among the pomp and circumstance surrounding that wonderful event was lost the fact that every drive that Mike led ended in a touchdown. That fact was not lost on me. Playing only defense in the game, I was able to watch him play from the sidelines for the first time. His calm and controlled attitude was palpable even from my vantage point. That night would be the last time I would share a field with Mike for three years.

As I stood, speechless, conflicted, and confused, I remembered that day, at Fauver Stadium, watching him control the game. I stood, hurting for my friend, as the game wore on. When the final horn sounded, I looked for Mike and I could not find him. I waited impatiently as our coach gave his post game speech. I ran back across the field as soon as I could hoping to catch him before I had to get on our bus. I found his head coach and explained to him who I was. He told me that he had left as soon as the game had ended. I felt out of place, I wanted to share with my friend how sorry I was. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to cry with him. I wanted him to know that I was there for him, that what ever he needed I would provide.

I boarded our bus and we headed back east on the Thru Way. There was a car accident along the way, and I had a moment of shear panic, fearing that he had gotten into and accident rushing to get home to his family. I had never felt so useless in my life. He did not need me, he needed his family.

I stood to the side at the funeral. I do not know if he saw me there. I did not know how to act or what to say. I felt like I had intruded on a personal moment. I felt that by being on the field that day, watching him struggle through such a terrible time, that I had somehow violated his privacy, like I had seen something he did not want anyone to see. I had witnessed the rawest of human emotions that day. I had stood, fifty-yards away as another human being, one I called my friend, had suffered. I did not watch as Matt’s body was lowered into the ground. I watched my friend’s face. I watched as something broke inside of him. Matt was more than his little brother, Matt was his best friend.

After that day, it was years until I saw him again. I had kept up with him from a distance. I knew he had become the quarterback for the Rochester Raiders. I knew that he had hurt his foot so bad that the doctors feared for his ability to walk again, let alone play football. I knew that his desire to play drove him to get healthy, to get back onto the field. I saw him at a wedding last fall. I had become a father the week before, but all I could talk about was him. He was smiling again. It was a smile I was afraid I would not see again. Mike Mikolachik was smiling, he had found someone to share his life with. Someone who made him laugh. I am going to take my daughter to see him play this spring. I want her to see her dad’s hero, doing that which always brought him so much joy. Doing that which Matt would have wanted him to do.

So…Terry Got a New Job

I never really shared this on Facebook, aside from a throwaway comment about anyone having any teaching materials for Psychology and Law, but I was hired to teach in January.

It was ironic, or serendipitous, because I was preparing to leave my job for Per Diem subbing when I got called. I am teaching Psychology, Law and Study Skills as North East College Prep in Rochester. The first month or so was absolutely crazy as I got my feet wet and transitioned from Hillside, where I had been for almost four years. Leaving was really hard because of the relationships that I had made with my kids.

The first few weeks of teaching left me wondering what I was thinkning, when I assumed I could do this. Luckily things are getting better and I am starting to feel like I am hitting my stride. I have no experience teaching either Psychology, or Law and have no curriculum to work off of. I am basically making it up as I go along and teaching the things that interest me.

Today being the last day of February (Black History Month) I am showing an amazing PBS special called “Slavery by Another Name

I suggest this for anyone interested in learning more about a largely untold story of the means by which White southerners maintained institutionalized racism well into the 20th century.

Why I’m Taking Shakeology

I hinted yesterday that I would be posting a complete review of my experience so far with Shakeology.

A major reason why I signed up to be a Beachbody Coach was the     %25 discount on products. Everything that I had read, seen and heard about Shakeology stated that if I were to spend money every month on one supplement, this is the one I should be spending it on.

In the beginning of February I took the plunge. I have incorporated Shakeology into my daily diet and I can honestly say, that after about two weeks, I can literally already feel a difference. Up until today, I took my Shakeology in addition to eating oatmeal every day. This morning I decided it was time to see how my body would react to having noting for breakfast except for this super food  .

I was concerned, given the nature of my job (teaching) that I would find myself hungry and running on fumes. That has not been the case. I actually am going on about 2 hours of sleep today (it’s a long story) and aside from my brain feeling fatigued, I feel great. I still got up and worked out this morning and took my Shakeology along with a scoop of whey protein, ice and water.

As of this writing, it is about 1:00 pm. I have eaten lunch, and continue to feel great. So far, my grand experiment has been a success. I challenge anyone reading this to find me a negative review of Shakeology (aside from the cost, I realize it is expensive). I had a woman at the grocery store remark to me the other day that “boy, eating healthy is expensive”. To which I just politely nodded. What I wish I had said to her was that yes, it is expensive. But, how much do you spend at fast food restaurants in a week? How many times do you eat out? What do you spend in a year in medical bills? Prescription drugs? Alcohol? Snacks? The list goes on and on. The hidden cost of living an unhealthy lifestyle, when you really think about it, is overwhelming. I constantly ask myself, what is my good health worth to me? The answer is, I cannot attach a dollar figure to how important it is that I feel as great as I do.

So yes, Shakeology is expensive. But, it is a price I am willing to pay, because in my experience it is worth it. Here is video of Wayne Wyatt of TeamRIPPED discussing this very thing:

Check out some of Wayne’s results videos and the TeamRIPPED website as it is where I have found a lot of answers to questions that I have had.

If after reading this and doing your own research, you decide you want to give Shakeology a try, you can follow the links to the right to sign up for a free account with Team BeachBody. It has a 30-day money back guarantee, so there is really no risk other than that you will love it and have to continue to buy it. I have found that there are two groups of people, those who swear by Shakeology, and those who have yet to try it.

What a Mess…

I have had to be very real with myself and my Mets fandom in the last few weeks.

This team is terrible. Willie Randoph was not the problem.

Jerry Manuel was not the problem. Neither was Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, or any other single player.

The problem is mental. The problem is one of group psychology. There is something inherently wrong with he makeup of the players on this team as a group, and until it changes, nothing will change.

I look at Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Jose Reyes, the longest tenured Mets at this point. Individually, they are all extremely talented players, who for whatever reason (and I don’t claim to have the answer) are unable to take that talent and succeed on the highest level. Carlos Beltran will forever be defined by Adam Wainwright’s curveball in ’06. David Wright will be forever defined as Captain Un-Clutch, or as I have taken to calling him K-vid Wright because I have never seen a more talented player look so consistently lost at the plate. Jose Reyes will forever be defined by plays like last night where he was caught napping leading off first, down one run in the ninth where he was doubled off on a failed bunt attempt. The frustration being that it was the fourth time he was on base last night, and scored only one run.

So, what is the problem then? I think I heard the answer last night. Not from David Wright, the supposed leader of this team, who is as full of excuses as he is terrible swings. Not from Terry Collins, who appears to have absolutely no control over what is going on with this team, and sounded totally fine during his post game presser last night, when he should have been airing out his lazy players for their awful play. It wasn’t from Carlos Beltran, who instead of taking Angel Pagan, his protegé, under his wing and explaining to him how god awful his base running has been and how his lack of production is killing this team, has been loafing after balls in the outfield.

No, I heard the answer from the least likely of sources. R.A. Dickey, the Mets knuckleballing “Ace”, who was as honest and candid as I have ever heard a major league player, or any player for that matter in my sports watching life.

Following the latest Mets implosion, Dickey threw himself, and his teammates by extension, under the bus, the classiest and most honest way I have ever heard. What he said in essence is that as 25 men, they have to stop saying “We are getting unlucky, we need to play better, we are better than this, we need to execute” as those are simply empty words, and be honest about who they are, what they are doing wrong, and find a way to fix it. To say I was left speechless would be an understatement.

Dickey’s exact words were:

“It starts with me. We have to find a way to be honest with ourselves about what  kind of team we are. We can’t just keep telling ourselves, ‘Oh, we’re a  better team than this.’ We may not be. And we’ve got to be honest about  that, and identify what we’re doing wrong, and do it better. That’s the  only way you have any real growth…If we keep waltzing through the season and saying, ‘Oh, we’re better  than this,’ or ‘We’ve had some bad breaks,’ or ‘The umpires are bad,’  we’re going to look back and kick ourselves in the butt because we’ve  done nothing about it. We’re walking too many guys, we’re  not hitting with runners in scoring position. If you can identify the  problem, it doesn’t have to be psychologically so overbearing.”

I think this was so powerful to me because this is how I try to live my life. Analyze what you do, think about the outcome you desire, determine what action is needed to obtain the outcome, if the desired outcome is not obtained, be real and honest about why not, and act differently in the future.

This is ground breaking because this type of talk has not come from the Mets in 4 or 5 years. There is 0 accountability for failure, because there has always been an excuse. David Wright is the face of this for me. He always has a reason why the outcome was what it was, without ever owning his own failure. He never says “We failed because I struck out with runners on first and third with one out.”

I have no idea if Dicky’s comments will have an impact, I have no idea what kind of voice he has in that room of men. What I do know is, Carlos Beltran isn’t speaking up, David Wright isn’t speaking up so someone has to.

I am still waiting for a beat reporter to ask Terry Collins this question: “If your entire focus this spring was on fundamentals and playing the game the right way, and your team has the worst record in the league for no other reason than they are the least fundamentally sound, most undisciplined, unfocused team who does none of the little things right, is that your failure, or your players failure?”

I am so disappointed. There is not Jerry Manuel to fire, there is no Oliver Perez to send packing. This is the team and the manager that I was hoping for, these just are the results I have hoping for.

Opening Weekend Thoughts

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel some level of “Here we go again” Friday night as I watched John Buck’s grand slam sail over the right field wall in Florida. Last year was just so frustrating that it was almost impossible to avoid the crushing depression that has plagued the Mets entire organization since Carlos Beltran had his knees buckled on that fall night in 2006.

I watched Friday as Mike Pelfrey folded in the face of pressure and the head to head matchup with Josh Johnson who displayed Friday what an Ace looks like. Pelfrey, who is by default the “Ace” of the Mets, which in this case simply means that he pitched the first game of the season, is not an ace. Not in mental make-up (where is the guy who barked at Chase Utley to get back into the box when he stepped out on Pelf two years ago) not in “Stuff” (can you strike no one aside from Josh Johnson out?) and not in appearance (has another 6’7″ man ever looked smaller standing on a 20″ mound of dirt?).

That “here we go again” feeling carried over into Saturday night, when I checked the score on my phone only to see that the Mets were down by 2 in the first inning with Jon Niese (my pick for breakout performance by a Met this year) on the mound. As I checked the score periodically throughout the night, the innings kept passing by with the score against the Mets staying at 2. I arrived home to find the Mets in the lead late in the game with a chance to win their first of 2011. Enter K-Rod, exit Mets lead. “Here we go again”. But no, these are the 2011 Mets. These are not the same 25 men who have been followed by a black cloud that has swarmed around this team like a mass of angry, miserable bees. No, these Mets fought back, they took the lead, they lost the lead, they took it back. They hit when they had to, the pushed the envelope with good base running and tough at bats, they got outs when they needed them. This was a team that I did not see last year. They won a road game, a feat they repeated on Sunday en route to winning their first road series of the season, something they didn’t do against an NL team until August last year.

These are the 2011 Mets.

Do I think they are going to win 2 out of every 3 and finish the season with 100 wins? No, I don’t. But I do think they have the ammo to contend in the division. The reality is every team in the NL East has problems. The Phillies is their lineup and bullpen, their strength is their rotation. The Mets is their lack of an Ace, their strength is their lineup, the pitching depth and the fact that this is not 2010.

I think the Mets can take 2 of 3 against the Phils this week. But I know that if they don’t, even if they are swept, it will not mean this season is doomed. This is not 2010.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

So we are edging closer and closer to the reported release date and the excitement is building, at least in this house.

The EW article answers some of the questions that have been floating around 159 South Ave for months.

The biggest mystery has been (aside from how badly they will butcher my favorite of the 7 books) where will they split the film. From the time they announced that the final film would be two full length films, we have wondered (and debated) where is the best place for the split, and more importantly, where would the director choose to split it.

We now have an answer.

Part one will end when Voldemort robs Dumbledore’s grave of the Elder wand, the Death Stick, the Wand of Destiny. All of which Harry sees in his head on the banks of the lake that Harry, Ron and Hermione jumped into following their escape from Gringotts.

I was surprised to hear this because it seems to fall so late in the book. This means that Part 2 will consist of basically the battle for Hogwarts.

Part 1 will have to include parts of the Wedding, the Escape, the assault on the Ministry, all that Camping, Godric’s Hollow, Ron’s return, Malfoy Mannor, and Gringotts. Needless to say, there is going to be a lot going on in Part 1.

I have said before that the logical break would be just after Dobby’s death, Harry having just made the choice to pursue Horcruxes, not Hallows. I would have ended part one just after Harry spoke with Olivander and Griphook, and started part 2 with Harry sitting on the cliffs at Shell Cottage looking out over the ocean. But hey, what do they care what I think .

Because of where they have chosen to split the film, there will be ample time to give a full treatment to the battle for Hogwarts, the Pensive, Back into the Forrest, Kings Cross and the Flaw on the Plan.

Trying to temper my expectations is not working well.