Saturday, August 08, 2009

Empathy for Smoltz and Giambi

Switching to the first person for a post if that's okay with you? John Smoltz and Jason Giambi were cut by their respective teams today. Both are way beyond their peak and both were trying to start over with new clubs. In Giambi's case, he was trying to resurrect his career with his original team. Once again, it's hard to go home again. The Fan...I...can relate to what they must be feeling.

There comes a point in every life where you just can't do the things you used to be able to do with ease. Both Smoltz and Giambi used to excel and it probably seemed for them at the time that it would always be so. When you are young, life is exponential in possibilities. Energy isn't something you need because you already possess it with innateness. I used to be able to run for miles and I could run like the wind. I could ride my bike with ease for hours on end, well into my thirties. Then something happens and you still feel the same inside, but your mind can't get the response it wants from the body. It makes you doubt. It's little things too. Like a small wall or fence that you used to hop over without thinking. Now, when I see something like that, I hesitate and look for an easier way. I used to spend almost every free moment from early September to the end of October getting wood for the winter. From gathering it in the woods to splitting and stacking. I just knew I could do it and I didn't hesitate.

In 1993, I helped start a tax preparation software company. The founder and I coached little league together and that's how it started. My first desk was a door on six milk crates in his living room. I worked 70, 80 hours a week building that thing and with his smarts and my people skills, that business became a $40 million a year enterprise.

Most of those later years were desk years. Somewhere along the line, I stacked on some weight and stopped stacking wood and stopped running and stopped riding bikes and stopped snowshoeing and stopped doing things for myself. By then, I could pay people to do things for me. Then the founder sold the company. Don't blame him. He got what he wanted out of the thing and he made his money. The company that bought the business offered me a great opportunity to continue with the business. The only catch was that I needed to move from Maine to Georgia. I couldn't do that.

I have a little girl. Well, she isn't very little any more. But she isn't grown up yet either. She lives with her mom and her older brother two towns from here. My dad died when I was ten. I just couldn't leave her behind to continue a successful life. I couldn't be an absentee dad. And my grown son was still in this area and I didn't want to leave him either. And so I declined the gracious invitation. Besides, I was tired of the tax world and it's high volubility and stress. Three years ago, I started a publishing business. I had a five year plan and figured by the fifth year, the business would support me and I could retire from the tax business. Well, life had other plans.

And so, long before the plan could reach its maturity, I am giving it my all to speed up the process. I would have taken another job if there was one around. But, this decision to part with the old company came at the worst possible time with a tanking economy and hiring freezes. To add to that problem, most of my liquid capital had already been tied up in my new company's equipment, so there is no real cushion to work with here. My wife, a teacher who loves what she does, is unbelievable. She believes in me and in what I am trying to do and she would rather see us struggle than for me to scrap it. And so we live week to week and month to month.

I have to do things myself now. And running this business requires physical labor such as standing on my feet all day and carrying boxes full of books or paper or toner up and down stairs. It's exhausting. It wouldn't have been twenty years ago. I have to pace myself and learn my limitations. My knees ache and I have this heel spur and I look like an old man when I first wake up and stumble to the bathroom. But so help me, I am going to make this work. I grew one company and I can do it again. But boy, it's not as easy this time because I don't have the energy I once had.

The determination I have to grow this company is the same determination I have to write this blog. One, I believe in my writing skills (I have nine books published). Secondly, I love baseball and this is a passion. The problem is that I have been working so hard that the blog has suffered. I struggle for passionate ideas to write about. I write shorter posts. Readership has lagged a bit and that bums me out and makes me yearn for the younger man I used to be.

And so, yeah, I can relate to Giambi and Smoltz. I can understand how hard it is to make an older body do what it used to do with ease. I can understand the humiliation when limitations that didn't used to exist now are faced on a daily basis. I can understand when you hit a wall and people are watching, many expecting you to fail.

The one difference is that their chosen profession is finite. It's a young man's game and after a while, those limitations cause you to lose that profession. I can keep plugging away, using all the sum of my life's experiences to help me. Sure, I'm exhausted. Sure, I ache. But I don't have to quit.

I have this fountain in the front of my house, right by the front steps. It is a relic from the days of disposable income. I love that fountain. Like me, like Giambi and Smoltz, that fountain sprang a leak. It kept losing water from the bowl that is supposed to hold it. Age caught up to it just as sure as it has caught up to me. I no longer can just pay somebody to fix it. So I was determined to salvage "my lady" (as I call her). To do so meant lifting the lady off her perch on top of the fountain so I could then take down the bowl to repair it. Like that low fence I told you about earlier, when faced with the task of picking this huge marble lady off of her pedestal, I hesitated. I can't do that anymore can I?

Well, I told you, I love my lady and I had to save her from becoming an old, opulent plant holder. So I wrapped my arms around her. I took in a bunch of breath and I lifted her. Man, she was heavy. But I did it. I lifted her and gingerly and slowly, got her onto the driveway. I painted the bowl with white, waterproofing cement paint, waited a day for it to dry and lifted that lady back on her perch. I filled the bowl with water, plugged the fountain into the electrical source...and it didn't work. Nothing happened. The pump wouldn't engage.

The pump must have burned out last year when the bowl couldn't hold the water. So I had to lift the lady again and removed the pump. I scraped up enough money and went to Lowe's to buy a new one. I put it back together again, lifted the lady back on her perch, plugged it in. And it worked. My lady is back in business and pretty as ever. Eureka! I did it! I was so proud. And when my little girl came over for her regular visit, she said, "The Lady is working!" That made it all the sweeter.

So yeah, Mr. Smoltz and Mr. Giambi. We may be older. We may not be able to do a lot of the things we used to be able to do. But we aren't dead yet. We aren't even incapable yet. If baseball is still in your blood, keep trying and hook up with another team. If it doesn't work out, you know what? Life goes on and there are new victories to win elsewhere. They may come with a lot more aches and pains, but they still feel mighty special.

Good luck to both of you.


bobook said...

Funny how the ladies in our lives make life sweeter.
Nice post.

eyebleaf said...

Great post...

Josh Borenstein said...

You ARE a good writer, William. This post is proof enough of that. Very moving. I admire your resolve and passion.

William said...

Thanks, guys. I needed that.