Category: Delusions of Grandeur

Inspirational Leadership is… all the Rage?

By Tom Kersten (adapted from a blog article August 14, 2016)

Rage is a fascinating subject, especially if you have the opportunity to see it up close. Like a Rube Goldberg machine… It is complex, difficult to understand, entirely self-perpetuating and the smallest of actions can set off catastrophic results. I live inside just such a system, balanced precariously like a three-legged stool between the words… Wife, Daughters and Responsibility… coated in a thick veneer of constantly cycling hormones, with my only defense being a toxic biochemical cloud of perspiration and fear trailing behind me, as a type of warning to others… It’s too late for me but you can still save yourself. Think I’m exaggerating? Being too hard on the women-folk, am I? Recently, my wife brought home a book about raising children, not all that unusual as she works in a library, but the title gave me pause – “People I Want to Punch in the Throat” – I’m not going to lie, one some level I had grave concerns for my personal safety, reflexively rubbing my neck and adjusting my shirt collar in a very Rodney Dangerfield kind of way. My wife simply nodded slowly, like Geena Davis in The Fly, as if to say… Be afraid, be VERY afraid… And I was. If she had an evil laugh, this is where she would have used it.

This video link is the world’s funniest EVIL laugh… And the thought that they spent weeks or even months teaching this trick, only to have it become incredibly annoying… Is even funnier.

Considering this daily exposure to the psychologically delicate, emotionally driven rage that permeates my household, one would think I might have built up a near immunity to outbursts of all types… A wooden and callused shell of a man, emotionally bereft and completely oblivious to the violent displays of rage that frequently appear during tense moments on any baseball field. Our team has taken to calling these types of temper tantrums… “Hulk Smash” moments. These are the little ball-gasms of man-child emotions, bordering on masochistic delight, that leaves people speechless… And much like any prolonged session of aggressive masturbation, leaves everyone involved feeling unfulfilled, slightly ashamed and socially isolated. But as I’ve explained to my children on multiple occasions, this is why crazy trumps tough every day of the week.  If people think you are tough, someone will eventually want to find out how tough… but if people think you are crazy, no one ever wants to find out how crazy.

This photo sums up so many things about our past players… Ean’s anger at the poker table, Andrey’s disappointment at the performance of his bats, Ean’s dislike of Kasey’s base-running, Tony’s philosophy of helmet care, Ean’s preoccupation with my counting skills, Chad’s feelings regarding curveballs, Ean’s thoughts on personal responsiBILLity… Does it seem to anyone else that Ean might have too many of these issues?

Not the dangerous kind of crazy, not the you’re about to be hog-tied by your fellow passengers on an airplane crazy with a big “C”… Just crazy with a small “c”, like boarding a full elevator and refusing to turn around to watch the floor numbers click by, but rather breaking social convention and starring uncomfortably at everyone as if to say, I could go postal on you at any moment or break into tears body-rocking on the floor… I have no idea what’s coming next… SO DON’T!!!… Just don’t. Suddenly, you are given a wide berth by default, as if the neighborhood’s old ladies got together and warned everyone, “just let him do what he wants, Marge’s boy is special”. It’s freedom from within society’s constraints and it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I have strategically employed this tactic with frequent success and that deep down inside I am filled with an anger and rage equal to the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns…  or I could just be more than slightly sarcastic… or as Jeff Bridges says to John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, “You’re not wrong Walter… You’re just an asshole!”

Far too often though, society defers to these individuals who stand out from the crowd and attempts to make them “leaders”. While the qualities on display may be greatly beneficial in certain circumstances, true leadership consists of much more than a cult of personality. Aristotle once warned us that, “He who cannot first be a good follower, cannot be a good leader”… of course, Aristotle also thought women were “disfigured” men and that they played little to no role in reproduction… so consider your sources. But the fact remains, no one wants to follow someone who’s nuttier than a fruitcake or a silverback mountain gorilla. Unpredictable, self-absorbed, power hungry and prone to violence… These are the requirements of a Mafia hitman, not a leader. A true leader moves the entire group in a positive direction, cultivating relationships that challenge and reward, but most of all… A true leader makes it all about the “us” and not about the “me”.

This video link deftly explains the power of a movement… No, not the kind you drop in the crapper. This is about how leaders relate to their first followers and why failing to learn this lesson as a manager or business owner will leave you cradling your “lone nuts”.

Ultimately, leaders inspire others to join the worthy cause, to find the breath that motivates people to push passed the difficulty of the now and beyond the pain of the present… To grasp the elusiveness of possibility and put forth the effort needed to help the movement press forward to reach the vaunted goal. All too often however, history praises the leader above the act of leadership itself, above the goal… George Washington at Valley Forge, Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Mahatma Gandhi at Dandi, Martain Luther King, Jr. at Selma… Great leaders and great leadership forces, even demands that the focus be put back on the “us”… The service to others and to the cause… And never on the praise of the individual person. This is where actual leadership… and true inspiration really reside. 

Finally, on the recommendation of one of my closest poker table “advisors”, I will be ending all my blog articles with the same tagline… To honor one of our friends who, despite being asked multiple times to read these posts, still refuses to do so. This passive aggressive behavior will continue to be repeated with almost Tourette’s like consistency until he notices his mistake and takes the appropriate action to apologize for his lack of emotional support… PONTY IS A DICK!!!

This video caught my attention with the comment regarding success vs. sleep… See if you can pick it out, I’ll be busy mainlining Skittles and Mt. Dew to keep me awake.

Get some DAD-itude on the field

By Tom Kersten (adapted from a blog article July 17, 2016)

As any clinical psychologist will tell you… and I’ve spoken with many, do with that what you will… “the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior”. They then spend the next 20 minutes citing examples of how this isn’t always true… a behavior in its own right, so predictable it very nearly proves the point. Though inversely, as any analyst on Wall Street will be quick to point out, in the highly paid world of cover-your-ass finance, “past results are not indicative of future returns.” These two statements would appear to be at-odds with one another, similar to my own nearly perpetual bi-polar behavior… as I require constant instruction and yet I do not like to be told what to do… a perplexing conundrum, I admit. My default setting in situations such as these… and they come up with remarkable frequency, is to defer to any number of “advisors” among my circle of compatriots who will offer their musings, on a plethora of topics (see what I did there?)… most often unsolicited, slightly inebriated and in front of a TV, while playing a six-hour poker game. In this case – on the subject of the addictive nature of smoking – among my panel of unqualified “experts”, it was once suggested that, “quitting smoking is easy… I’ve done it 7 times”… a proclamation reminiscent of the movie Better Off Dead with the immortal words, “I’ve been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy.”

What does any of this have to do with baseball? Funny you should ask. In our league, containing players ranging in age from 18 to 78, bracketed into 5 age divisions…  the one with the most consistency, both in attendance and performance, 35+ on Friday nights, is also the one with the most “dads”, some with still young children in tow. Stick with me now, I’m bringing it around. While the older guys can play down with the younger guys, it does not work the other way around… leading to interesting and insightful comments that can be overheard – by those of us that move between divisions – during any pre-game warm-up. The younger guys, with their healthy nights out, tend to have “young” guy conversations like, “DUDE we got so wasted Friday night and then the stripper did this thing…” and so forth. The 45+ & 52+ guys, who tend to know their way around a tube of BenGay and a bottle of IcyHot (props to each of you for still getting on the field and doing the deed)… tend to have more “mature” conversations, like “my doctor started me on Lipitor and said I needed to lose 25 pounds… smart move man, my brother did that, made a world of difference… have you seen what my 401k is doing?… That’s awesome for you, trust me, retirement is great!”

Contrast these comments with the 35+ guys, playing on Friday night because Sundays are “family” days and we hear things like, “I won’t make it next week cuz I’m coaching my son’s travel team in a tournament… We’ll be out of town for the weekend camping… we’re gonna be in the Dells, hitting the water park with the kids next week… my arm hurts from throwing batting practice to 12-year-olds… Yeah? Well, try doing grown-ass men for 3 hours”… wait… What? This last one actually was spoken during a poker game, but I think you see where I’m going with this. These are the elusive chirpings of the American Male Dad in his natural habitat and as such, they’re not always going to come out coherently. The odd thing is this, even with all the obstacles facing these players… the time commitments of family, the stress of work and the injury rate over the course of the season… the Friday night teams are rarely short on players, argue infrequently with each other or umpires, play at an extremely high level and manage to do all this, often with kids in tow. Why should this be so? For your consideration, I submit… the word DAD-itude and the proper use of the “big piece of chicken.”

SIDENOTE: The video link here explains the average American household dynamic as put forth by one of today’s foremost marital philosophers, Chris Rock.

Now, I don’t know if DAD-itude is a new word or not… seems like any jackhole with a Wiki-account can create a new word these days… but it definitely isn’t a new idea. This term just refers to that positive, can-do attitude that a father brings to the table whenever he gets a bug-up-his-ass to get something done. When I was young… and yes it feels like a long time ago… my father was fond of saying, “there is a perfect tool for every job… but I don’t own any of them, so we’re gonna do it like this.” Which was invariably followed in close succession by, “now don’t ever try this yourself,” (he was rewiring an electrical outlet, without turning off the power) and “pay close attention cuz the doctor’s gonna want to know what happened,” (he was hanging a 12-point buck from the garage rafters using one pulley and an old set of my bicycle handlebars). Whenever I might venture to point out the inherent danger of said situation, he would always answer the same way… “relax, its gonna be fine”. Carrying sheets of drywall down the basement stairs at 13, “I don’t have much grip here, Dad”… “relax, its gonna be fine”. Wheelbarrowing rock from the driveway to the backyard at 15, “this handle feels like its gonna break, Dad”… “relax, its gonna be fine”. Cutting down a tree by pulling on a rope tied 40 feet up while he cuts the base with a chainsaw at 17, “you really think it’ll hit the open gate and miss the fence on either side, Dad?” … “relax, its gonna be fine” and… it was. In every one of these potential cluster&@#%$, the final outcome was exactly what my father had predicted. Now, there were some miscues… and those childhood memories almost always ended the same way as well, with some version of, “so… let’s not tell your mother about this, okay?” … And I never did, at least until recent years when the gray hairs and sore backs indicated that the statue of limitations had probably expired on our collective stupidity and letting some of these sneak out could be both healthy and bonding, running the risk of little more than eye rolls and a slow head shake from my mother in her easy chair.

SIDENOTE: This video link here is Bat Dad, a suburban father who embraced life in the car pool lane with grace and style… and a cheap Batman mask… truly inspirational DAD-itude.

I believe this is the attitude that gets players to the field and keeps us winning. Players who have the desire to compete, but have the wisdom to know that there is much more to life than winning the game at all costs. This insight and perspective are what sets teams apart from any I have known before. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying… if you take ball four and then pull your calf muscle in a slow jog to first base… there is literally, no limit to the amount of shit that will be heaped on you… right, Keith? And that is an enormous part of the camaraderie of a baseball team at its best… laughter as a bonding agent. Baseball is a sport built, not just for competition, but for contemplation and self-deprecation. Coach John Wooden said, “The best competition I have is against myself to become better”… and I would submit that he wasn’t just talking about sports when he said that.

SIDENOTE: This video link is comedian Heywood Banks and I dont know why, but every time my children and I watch this, we cant stop laughing and yes, that is a toaster he is playing.

For the Love of the Game

By Tom Kersten (adapted from a blog article July 7, 2016)

There are many things my wife does not understand… the appeal of Jim Carrey, for instance… possessing an intense hatred of the actor/comedian usually reserved only for third-world dictators, telemarketers and Jehovah’s witnesses… why our youngest daughter choses to stuff her candy wrappers into the cushions of the couch instead of throwing them in the trash can… “seriously little girl… are you THAT lazy?”… (HINT: the answer is yes)… and my wife will never… and I mean NEVER… understand the affection I have for the 1980 Sci-Fi classic film Flash Gordon… this movie’s “special effects” are so campy, its dialog so chopped and it’s acting so over-the-top, self-consciously pretentious… it borders on pathologically awesome. Take the opportunity… force yourself to bravely sit through the entire thing some time… it will change your perspective on the word… torturous.

Bravery, of course, comes in many forms. The very act of me writing the opening sentence of this article, in and of itself, is a monumental statement of personal courage on my part… death, an ever-present possibility, as that pillow quietly descends over my snoring pie-hole at 3:17am on some random Wednesday. After all, it’s an inevitable response in a household with four women… as no man is smart enough, handsome enough or funny enough to be worth enduring the nightly cacophony currently taking place in our slice of domestic tranquility… (note to self: get that sleep study scheduled… their patience, like the clock, is ticking). But of all these things, the one my wife least understands is why I would, at nearly 45 years old, be playing baseball against guys half my age… I know… seriously, where do these guys get off being 20 & 21 years old?… WTF??… [deep cleansing breath]… Ohmmmmm… Youth is wasted on the young… Ohmmmmmm… Youth is wasted on the young… [deep cleansing breath]. Why, she repeatedly asks, would I risk the likelihood of twisted knees, rolled ankles, swollen joints… why would I endure the arthritis in my spine, the tendonitis in my elbow and the tears in my rotator cuff for the… are you kidding me?… opportunity to take sharply hit ground balls off my chest and duck fastballs aimed at my head? Did I receive too many blows to the skull as a child? … And we all know the answer to that one is… Yes.

And we all know that men wear their injuries as badges of distinction… Like only slightly less-crazy versions of Edward Norton in Fight Club… Never talk about fight club!!!… giving a curt nod to the waiter serving him, who the night before had been pounding one another to a pulp… their cuts, bruises and scrapes a visual sign of newly found backbone and the fact that they refuse to go quietly into that goodnight… or perhaps more accurately and gingerly, like Nick Nolte waking up in the opening scene of North Dallas Forty, wincing in pain remembering each hit taken the night before… the pads, braces and pain-killers not nearly enough to mask it all… and slowly… quietly… itching to go back for more, to see if he can measure up to the challenge.

SIDENOTE: This video is the opening sequence of Burt Reynolds’ Hooper, as an aging stuntman tallies his scars while dressing for his next brush with immortality… a personal “guilty pleasure” of mine, this scene can only be described as vintage 1978 “pad-porn”.

An illustration of the massive divide in thinking between the female brain and the male brain, when it comes to this line of reasoning regarding sports, is to dissect one of the many typical conversations had by the average baseball player in this league and the spouse that loves him. As he finishes his Hooper-esque dressing and heads out the door to the game, it goes something like this:

Wife: “Have fun .” (Translation: Don’t hurt yourself!)
Husband: “Thanks.” (Translation: I’m not a moron!)
Wife: “Be careful.” (Translation: No… you’re an idiot!)
Husband: “I will.” (Translation: Dammit woman, don’t tell me what to do!)
Wife: “Love ya.” (Translation: I will tell you what to do, shit-for-brains!)
Husband: “Love ya too.” (Translation: Somebody get me a @%^$& beer!)

No??… Am I the only one?… That combined look of disapproval and condescension sweeping across her face as I head through the kitchen… My personal little ground zero in the estrogen-soaked hyper-pandemic sweeping the planet… Or am I just being paranoid? Is it paranoia if they really are out to get you? The real question is NOT if I’m being paranoid, the question is, am I being paranoid enough? Was that an Ambien she slipped me among all that Advil & Osteo-Bi-flex?… I accept this last one as a real possibility.

This video is an instant classic for all the frustrated, goal-oriented, problem-solving gentlemen of the world and the feelings-exploring, emotionally driven ladies who love them… it will not go without saying, “she nailed it!!!”

Now, before you send in your hate mail… remember, it all goes to: Brian Williams, 30 Rockefeller Plaza… kidding…kidding… JON STEWART FOR PRESIDENT!!!… I’m all for good communication, as much as the next guy… no, actually probably more than the next guy… in fact, good communication is one of the things I love about this game and one of the many needed elements for baseball success. This is a lesson our team learned early on several years back… mostly because we didn’t have much communication or success occurring at the time. My recollection of the characters and events goes something like this…

With a runner on first, and protecting a one run lead… for some still unexplained reason, Tony chose to pitch from the windup. No one missed it… as a former college basketball power-forward, now turned pitcher who could double as a tight-end on any football team… His delivery is somewhat of a force of nature. To say Tony has an intimidating presence on the mound, is an understatement so extremely monumental as to border on the absurd. From my position at third base, I simply thought, “well… that’s interesting.” I glanced over at Chad holding the runner on at first base… He shrugged, as if to say, “I have long ago given up on the idea of ever predicting what this team will do next.” Like I said… good communication.

The pitch rocketed in and was called a BALL by the umpire… a courageous act in its own right, based on the dirty look he got from the mound. The two umpires could not have failed to notice what was happening either… the base runner at first never moved an inch. The ball came back from Ean, the catcher and again Tony stood in on the rubber, ready to deliver the second pitch from the windup. The runner at first stood transfixed… with an expression on his face that read… I want to run… I know I’m supposed to run… But if I do, will he drill me with the ball or just tackle me between first and second, like some pharmaceutically enraged pitching version of Lawrence Taylor moments before snapping Joe Theisman’s leg live on Monday Night Football. Tony threw this next pitch even harder, apparently trying to force the ball through Ean’s glove, chest protector and body… and into the umpire, as punishment for the first pitch call. Again, BALL and again Ean stood, threw the ball back and crouched down to drop the next signal, like nothing was out of the ordinary.

Okay, I thought, they must be working on something… Am I witnessing two Jedi Masters at play… toying with the fragile emotions of runners and hitters alike? Are they baiting the runner to steal so they can pitch out and gun him down at second? Was there some kind of defensive signal on in this situation?… Do we have defensive signals? As manager, I should probably know that, shouldn’t I? See… quality communication all the way around.

Maybe Tony doesn’t want to pitch from the stretch or maybe his back is hurting a bit or that knee might be tweaked again… Who should come in if we need to take him off the mound?… How many innings does Dre have this week on his arm?… he pitched on Friday but only 2 innings… Or was it 3? I started doing something akin to baseball algebra… today is Sunday at 1pm and he threw on Friday late, like 10pm? Cuz the game started at…blah, blah, blah… So, if a train leaves Buffalo traveling 90 mph and another train leaves… My thoughts raced as I tried to analysis the proper move needed, not just for finishing this game but for the remaining games throughout the week. The variables and options flashing like a strobe light giving me a near-seizure and resulting in a big old brain cramp.

Just then Tony, a frown forming upon catching the ball being returned from Ean, froze on the mound. He stared at his catcher and almost yelling, almost scolding, said… “why are you letting me pitch from the windup? There’s a runner on first,” pointing over to the hapless base runner, who by now was so confused, he was looking for a hole he could climb into. Finding none, he made himself smaller by hiding behind Chad’s right leg at first base and suddenly became extremely interested in the dirt at his feet… Is this native Wisconsin dirt or did they truck this in for us? Fascinating… Ean slowly stood and took one step forward onto home plate. Without removing his catcher’s mask, perhaps due to fatigue, perhaps half expecting the ball to arrive at his head at any moment, yelled back… “I don’t tell you what to do, cuz I don’t want to be punched in the face.” For a long moment there was silence. I guess the Jedi Masters thing was a bit premature after all… Then laughter from everyone… Tony, Ean and the rest of our players… the opposing players and umpires, even the fans were now in on the joke… the guy on first still didn’t know what to do, but this was an early bit of our “awesome” coming into its own. We could take ourselves seriously, but we should never take ourselves too seriously. Communication lesson learned… let’s try talking to one another… what a novel concept.
I don’t remember the outcome of that particular game, but the season ended in our first Championship and all the subsequent success has been built from this basic concept: these are guys who love playing this game… the thrill of it and the pain of it… and we enjoy being out there together… finding the laughs, giving the shit and winning the games. All the titles, team-building and tacos that have followed is just gravy on the top… and no, my wife does not understand the appeal of any of it… much like my love of this clip.

SIDENOTE: This video is Jon Stewart & Ricky Gervais from Valentine’s Day 2011… truly two Jedi Masters at play… may we never stop asking, “Why do raccoons have black eyes?”