Thursday, August 28, 2008

Me and Bruce

I saw my first Bruce Springsteen concert Sunday night.

I’ve never really been a big fan of Springsteen. I’m 41, so I was in my prime music-taste-defining phase of my life when Springsteen was becoming popular – the late 70’s.

Over the years, I came to know the hits like everybody else. I know most of the words to “Born to Run,” if only through osmosis.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself re-evaluating my opinion on not just Springsteen, but several artists. I recall driving home from work one day, and “Badlands” came on the radio. It’s a song I was aware of, but I never really paid much attention to it or any other Springsteen song. This time however, the song caught my ear. From that one song, I started paying more attention to Springsteen’s music.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the concert. After reading about this shows and talking with others, I figured it would go down like this: Bruce will come out, probably late, he will sing a bunch of songs I’ve never heard before, and I’ll walk away thinking that it was a great show.

My wife and I arrived with our friends at the Sprint Center around 6:00. We enjoyed a few beverages, a little food, and made our way to our seats. We were seated by 7:30 (the time printed on the ticket), and ready for the show.

I looked around and noticed that at least 1/3 of the arena was empty. Lots of folks were taking their time arriving. The minutes ticked away. 7:45, 8:00, 8:15. I wasn’t bothered by it. We enjoyed chatting with the folks around us. We took turns going out for bathroom/drink breaks and to buy t-shirts. Finally, at 8:50, the lights went down.

Springsteen emerged, walked up the microphone and announced, “Hello fine citizens of Kansas City!” He then launched into a song called “Ricky Wants a Man of her Own.” All of us looked around with a puzzled, “what is this song?” look on our faces. It didn’t matter. Everybody was just thrilled to see him. Later, we would learn that “Ricky” is a song that Bruce may have never played in public before.

Two hours later, Bruce must have been exhausted. He puts every ounce of his energy into these shows. He’d sung 21 songs, danced around the stage, mugged for the cameras, retrieved signs from the crowd and picked a few requests from them. Then he launched into “Badlands.” This was the capper for me. The song that brought me back to Springsteen after so many years.

He played it with all his heart, and allowed the crowd to convince him to extend the song with a sing-along. After the song, Bruce and the band took their bows and left the stage. About three minutes later (the shortest pre-encore break I’ve ever seen), they re-emerged for an unforgettable encore.

Seven more songs came. First, the ballad “Fourth of July (Sandy),” which allowed everybody to catch their breath. They were rocked back to their feet with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” Suddenly, the house lights went up for “Born to Run” and “Rosalita.”

The crowd was about to explode. The lights went back down, and Bruce kept going. Next came his Irish-influenced “American Land” followed by “Dancing in the Dark.”

Just when we thought he was through, Bruce grabbed another guitar and launched into CCR’s “Rockin’ All Over the World.”

Finally, the band took their final bows and headed back stage.

It was after midnight when we left the arena.

It was a great night. Springsteen really does know how to put on a show. Even at nearly 60, he has more energy and is in much better shape than I, nearly 20 years his junior.

I’m not sure I’ll become one of those die-heard Springsteen fans, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to experience this concert. The E Street Band may never play together again. But I saw them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Youth Sports

My son’s a baseball player.

He’s entering high school now, and he still has the passion and desire to play baseball. He started playing ball when he was 4, so he’s been playing baseball for 11 years. He’s not very big or strong, but he is fast and he has good hands and a strong arm. And he has a love for the game.

I didn’t play baseball growing up. In fact, I never really played any sports. I’m not sure why. I guess I wasn’t really exposed to sports early on, so I never developed that competitive drive that so many athletes seem to possess.

I remember trying basketball once. I guess it was for some YMCA league or something. I don’t know if I ever played any games. All I can remember from basketball is the one time that a pass was thrown to me while I wasn’t looking. I turned my head just in time for the ball to smack me right in the face. I never played basketball again.

When I was older – maybe 12 or 13 – I played a season of baseball. We were called Medallion Auto Sound. Our uniforms were sort of a powder blue / gray color with red pinstripes. Awful.

I played right field. I remember standing out there hoping that they don’t hit a ball my way. One time, I was standing out there, and I remember a car accident catching my attention. I was standing in right field looking over in the parking lot as these folks argued over whose fault the wreck was when a ball was hit out my way. I remember being perturbed that this stupid batter would disrupt my argument watching like that.

When I hit, I typically would just stand there hoping for a walk. Yeah, I was that kind of player. I did walk one time, and the pitcher threw over to first. I got back to the base safely, but when I got up off the ground, I took my hand off the base and the first baseman tagged me out. Fortunately, the umpire felt sorry for me and let me stay at first. Needless to say, this wasn’t a very competitive baseball league.

We won one game that season. It was a forfeit.

As I got older, I started wondering why I never played sports. I was a fairly athletic kid. Skinny, quick. In high school, I decided I should at least try something. I told the basketball coach that I wanted to try out for basketball. He looked me up and down and asked if I’d ever played basketball before. “Um, well, yeah, kinda, well, no, not really.” He just said “Okay” and walked away. I never tried out.

I went out for track. That’s a good sport. Nobody gets cut from track. I remember running a relay during a meet one afternoon. I had the baton and I was running as fast as I could. As I approached my partner, I reached as far as I could to hand the baton to him. I reached too far, however, and I took a tumble to the blacktop track surface. I landed on my elbow and my hip, scraping the skin off. I laid for a while trying to figure out what had just happened, when the coach finally looked down at me and said, “You better get up, they’re coming back around.”

I was at least 16, because I remember pulling myself up off the track, walking slowly to my car, and driving home.

I never played any sport again.

So, as a father, I definitely wanted my children to participate in sports. As an adult, I see sports a big part of my life that I missed out on. I regret not putting more effort into sports as a kid, and I wanted my kids to have that experience.

My son tried soccer first, but hated it (thankfully). He played tee-ball when he was four, and never looked back. It’s been fun.

We’ve watched him play for many different teams and coaches. He’s played just about every position on the field. He’s gone through slumps. He’s hit homeruns. He’s struck out way too many times. But he’s always played. He’s played hard, and he’s never complained.

We’ve watched him play on chilly March afternoons, blazing July days, freezing October nights.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve always wondered if he’d get tired of playing ball, and would decide not to try baseball in high school. He started high school yesterday, and he still wants to play baseball.

He says he will work hard this winter to get better for spring tryouts. He will need to work hard. There are some very good baseball players in his class. But he’s determined to make this team.

I’m proud of him, and I’m glad he’s getting to experience things that I missed out on.

And even if he doesn’t make the baseball team, I still feel comfortable knowing he’s one of the best basketball players in his class. He’s never let a pass hit him in the face.