Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Heart of Baseball

If baseball has a heart then maybe it is located here in Feliberto Pena Stadium. And if there is a heart, then Isaias Leyba keeps it healthy, for he cares about baseball the way Timothy Geithner cares about the economy.

Leyba, 34, has lived his entire life in San Pedro de Macorís, a city in the Dominican Republic that produces more professional athletes (in this case major league baseball players) per capita than anywhere in the world. I first met him a year ago, during a brief visit to San Pedro. Though he is about the same height and weight as me, Leyba seemed to have a mystique or aura about him. When he demonstrated the proper pitching or hitting technique, all of his adolescent players listened. You could see it in their eyes. My initial impression was that he was intense. I liked it, but I was also a little intimidated. He didn’t speak any English. We spoke briefly and I left.

When I returned to San Pedro this year things were a bit different. Although when I arrived it seemed as if nothing had changed. Leyba still had the same Astros hat and was pitching balls to players taking batting practice just as he had when I left. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon my return. I loved Feliberto Pena Stadium because of a unique golden glow that radiated on the players before sunset. It was photography paradise. For some reason the lighting was always perfect. Most of the players lived in the poor neighborhood surrounding the field. Some moved from as far as Santo Domingo to play baseball here. They were young and hungry. As soon as I walked onto the field, Leyba smiled and seemed happy I had returned. At the end of batting practice, before fielding drills, he pitched a few to me. I told him I hadn’t played in a couple years, but Leyba still threw hard. Letting up wasn’t his style. As you can see from the photos below, I was probably the worst batter there….

Years ago Leyba had pitched for the New York Yankees summer league in Santo Domingo. This is why I was surprised he was such a good hitting instructor. The more I hung out with him the more he knew about the game. During a break in the action, I asked him who his best player was. “They are all good players,” he said, pointing to the field as they did hitting and fielding drills on their own. In many ways, he was the Dominican version of my Grandpa Dan; the players loved him for changing their lives and he felt the same about them. As it grew dark and mosquitoes preyed on my neck, Leyba kept hitting pop-flies and grounders. I couldn’t even see the ball, but somehow the players caught each one. This was an evening ritual.

He gave me a ride on his motorcycle a few blocks to his apartment. He was divorced and lived alone. There were no photos or paintings on his walls. He showed me his bathroom. The toilet had no flush; he had to fill a pail with water and pour it down. He had no hot water. Next to his tiny washer and drier, was his closest. He grabbed a Detroit Tigers jersey with “LEYBA” sown on the back. I asked him why he had a Detroit jersey and who gave it to him? “I don’t know,” he said with a smile. He told me that the jersey was a gift. I tried to refuse but he insisted. I felt bad I had nothing to give him in return, and promised next time I visit I’d bring photos for his bare walls. He also gave me a book titled Macorisanos at Bat, written in English and Spanish about the San Pedro players who had become big leaguers. The more we talked, the more English he spoke. I felt guilty he had given me almost everything he had. He didn’t have much, but money wasn’t important to him. His only other possessions were a cell phone, television, and fishing pole. He didn’t drink. His weekday evenings and Saturday mornings revolved around teaching baseball. Then he would fish in a nearby river during his free time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Charleston, S.C.

It was great to escape the brutal cold and visit my family in Charleston, S.C. this past weekend. My cousin Dan is finishing his final year of dental school, so I stayed with him along with my Aunt Joan and Uncle Mike. We had fun recording songs Aunt Joan wrote, one of which was titled, "Minkasaurus" about Dan's dog dressed in a dinosaur costume.

We strolled around the city, admiring its Pre-Civil War homes near the Ashley River. The giant oak trees and pastel-colored homes give it a distinct artistic look.

On Friday we went to the beach. The ocean wasn't too far away, especially on such a pleasant day for a ride. On Saturday we celebrated my Dad's birthday with some carrot cake and putting contests.

Returning to the South gave me flashbacks to my college years at UNC. It is hard to believe I graduated almost five years ago. It is even harder to comprehend that Aunt Joan has spent these same years dealing with cancer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dare I Say the "S" Word

At yesterday's presidential inauguration the media emphasized some of the differences between Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and for good reason. However, I couldn't help but notice one thing they share in common. In fact, every president of my lifetime, from Ronald Reagan to Obama, has had this one thing: swagger.

You see it in the way Bush and Obama walk, the way they talk, and what they say. Americans love cowboys and they love them in office even if they might not need a hat, gun, or horse. It was a startling revelation I had this past week, and one that I haven't heard mentioned by the mainstream media. It seems to me that in order to win an election you have to have swagger. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and John Kerry didn't have it, and you know what happened to them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Liar's Poker

To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue....

If mere scandal could have destroyed the big Wall Street investment banks, they’d have vanished long ago. This woman wasn’t saying that Wall Street bankers were corrupt. She was saying they were stupid. These people whose job it was to allocate capital apparently didn’t even know how to manage their own.

It seems to me that Wall Street is morally bankrupt and that its finances are finally justifying its workers' behavior. In addition to lack of values, many investors lacked competence as well. The two paragraphs above are from an insider's look at Wall Street and the reason for its collapse, written by Michael Lewis, one of my favorite writers. Before becoming a full-time journalist, Lewis was a bond salesman at Salomon Brothers in the mid-80's. To read a very interesting piece on what has happened inside Wall Street, click here.

Unfortunatly, after reading Lewis's article, and a recent New York Times piece, I believe America is headed for a second Great Depression. What bothers me most is not the frauds on Wall Street or even the inevitable economic decline of my country. Both of those I can understand intellectually and deal with physcologically. After all, I'm good at living without minimal resources. I also don't have much money to lose, so I don't have to live with that either, nor do I have to support children or think about retiring soon. The thing that bothers me most is that my parents and older family members may not be able to have a retirement that they worked so hard for.

I am not a negative person, but I am realistic. I do expect another depression, but I think it'll help instill the values that made my grandparents generation so great. Without good values, especially in business, there is no hope for lasting success.

Broadway Joe

Able to dunk backwards with two hands on his high school basketball team in Beaver Falls, Penn., Namath suffered a knee injury at Alabama, which grew worse through his playing days. But he was able to throw a perfect spiral 60 yards to his target without taking a step. Namath was a legend. Girls wanted to kiss him and boys wanted to be like him. Broadway Joe Namath could sell Ovaltine and pantyhose. He popularized the bachelor life at a time when it was not in mainstream society. And he wasn’t shy about his desire for late nights drinking with Mickey Mantle, mobsters and models. As he once said, “I like my Johnnie Walker Red and my women blonde.” The next day, hangover and all, he would deliver. He’d guarantee it as he did before the Jets Super Bowl III victory. Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Jets Super Bowl victory over the Colts.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jolie, Javon, and Jaime

Discovering the world from a new and fresh perspective is one reason I enjoy traveling. In particular, I like discovering these new encounters through my camera lens. This past week I visited my family and friends in my hometown of Danbury, Conn. I guess it was only natural that I began taking photos since life outside Chicago now seems, in a way, foreign to me. Below are three portraits I took on my trip: Jolie, Javon, and Jaime. (I know it's weird, but everyone in my family has a first name that begins with "J" except me.)

Jolie, a yellow labrador, is returning a tennis ball in my mom's front yard. As you can see, retrieving a ball in the snow is just about her favorite thing to do. She will play with you all day if want.

Javon, age 7, is my godson and my close friend's son. We took him to the batting cages to hit some balls. Baseball is his favorite sport and José Reyes is his favorite player.

I visited Jaime, my brother, at his apartment in Brooklyn. He showed me around his neighborhood, which included a good photo-op in front of a ridiculously festive home owned by Susan Gardner, an artist. Gardner decorated the front facade of her home in tile, jewelry, beads, action figures, and other vibrant decorations. As you can see, she is a huge supporter of Barack Obama.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Six New Technologies in 2009

I don't know about you, but I'd love to see free national WiFi. Hopefully, Barack Obama feels the same way and elects the right FCC chairman to make it happen.

Here are six new technologies, according to Fast Company magazine, that are on the verge of reality:

* Free National WiFi
* Powerful Mobile Internet Devices
* Linux On Everything
* Connected Cars
* 4G Wireless
* Windows' Redemption

For more info on this, please click here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Working Smarter, Not Harder

In making my goals for 2009, I have reflected a lot on 2008, which was the best year of my life. Yet I am still not working in the profession I desire, and I don't make (and more importantly saving) as much money as I want. I have come to the conclusion that intelligence and hard work are not my problems. I am constantly reading and working on projects. My problem is that I'm not working smart enough. I just read a blog entry from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Workweek, that helped me re-strategize my plans and the way in which I work and live. I've included the beginning of his blog below:

I was stressed out… over dog cartoons.

It was 9:47pm at Barnes and Noble on a recent Saturday night, and I had 13 minutes to find a suitable exchange for “The New Yorker Dog Cartoons,” $22 of expensive paper. Bestsellers? Staff recommends? New arrivals or classics? I’d already been there 30 minutes.

Beginning to feel overwhelmed with a ridiculous errand I’d expected to take five minutes, I stumbled across the psychology section. One tome jumped out at me as all too appropriate—The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen or read Barry Schwarz’s 2004 classic, but it seemed like a good time to revisit the principles, among them that:

-The more options you consider, the more buyer’s regret you’ll have.
-The more options you encounter, the less fulfilling your ultimate outcome will be.

This raises an difficult question: Is it better to have the best outcome but be less satisfied, or have an acceptable outcome and be satisfied?

For example, would you rather deliberate for months and get the 1 of 20 houses that’s the best investment but second-guess yourself until you sell it 5 years later; or would you rather get a house that is 80% of the investment potential of the former (still to be sold at a profit) but never second-guess it?

Tough call.

For this complete blog, click here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

First Sunrise

Waiting for the bus home from work at around 7 a.m. this morning, I glanced up and saw a beautiful, vibrant pink sky. I instinctively ran across 32nd Street and snapped this photo, facing southeast, before the sunrise disappeared. After my blog yesterday, I take this photo as a sign from Mother Nature that 2009 is going to be a better year for the environment and me as well.