Wednesday, September 29, 2021

My Life in Pictures: September 2021 Edition

Fall is here, and I wanted to share a few pictures of what's happened in my life over the last few months. I'm always home with my kids the week before school starts. It's my annual Dad Camp week. With the kids still too young to get vaccinated and wanting to avoid big crowds or tight indoor spaces, this year was a little more challenging. Still, we found fun things to do. We went to the Lincoln Memorial and walked on the National Mall.

We also visited one of my favorite spots in Northern Virginia, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. I've only gone a few times, but I need to make this a regular destination. It's so peaceful and calming (even with my kids!) with so much to see and acres to walk around. 

A neighbor has one child who just started college and another in high school. They were cleaning their garage, and since they see us outside playing regularly, offered to give us much of their sports equipment. They gave us a sled, a baseball glove, and numerous soccer balls. I still haven't even gone through the entire box yet. While we'll probably end up donating some of it, I'm fascinated by this baseball they gave us. Thanks to asking on Twitter, I found out that this was signed by former Doosan Bears and Lotte Giants catcher/DH Hong Sung-heon. (홍성흔)

I'm always on the go these days, but every once in a while, right before sunset, I walk on my golf course. Nearly every time, I see deer and/or foxes.

I went to Wegmans last month when it was probably around 90 degrees. I planned on buying ice cream or some type of dessert when I came across this item. 

I didn't know that there was an option of buying an 18-pack of Klondike bars, but it was on sale!

Luigi (now 4) took a picture of me looking very focused. 

When I worked in an office full-time, I shaved every day. Working from home part of the time, I find that I shave only every few days now. I definitely prefer this option.

Finally, this couldn't be a life in pictures post without Ziggy!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Friday Video: Lords of the Underground

There was a recent trend on Twitter where many people shared the first song that came to mind from their first year of college. For me, I could pick a song by Rusted Root, Dave Matthews Band, Stone Temple Pilots, or even Ace of Base. Instead, I'm going with "Chief Rocka" by Lords of the Underground. My roommate must have had this tape and played it regularly. I write tape (even though it could have been a CD) because I clearly remember our other roommate buying a Discman when he got bored at an airport. This was not an inexpensive purchase and one that I definitely could not afford at that time. 

This video is NSFW because of one word, but that word is in a line that I still use to pump myself up sometimes even now.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Interview With Jake Rosenberg

When I wrote about the most famous Ithaca College graduates, I didn't include many athletes. There are many notable IC alumni that are broadcasters and in sports media, but there aren't many successful athletes from Ithaca College or other Division III schools. The number of Ithaca College and/or D3 graduates that play on a national baseball team might just be one: Jake Rosenberg, IC class of 2018. Jake moved to Israel after graduation and played on Israeli's national baseball team, helping the team qualify for the recent Tokyo Olympics. Jake answered questions about his journey, his teammates, and much more.

I'll start with the obvious question. How does someone from the Philadelphia area who played baseball at Ithaca College (with apologies to Tim Locastro, not exactly known as a place for future professional baseball players) wind up on the Israeli baseball team?

It was the ultimate case of being in the right spot at the right time.  I knew I wasn’t ready to start your typical 9-5 job upon graduating from Ithaca in 2018, and wanted to go on an adventure before starting my work career.  I never had a chance to go abroad during college, so I knew that it was something I always wanted to try.  I picked Israel for many reasons.  Being Jewish and coming from a Jewish background, I thought it would make the most sense to go there.  I got in touch with the President of Israel baseball before going, to see if it would be worth my while.  I knew I was going there to help grow baseball in Israel.  I was going to coach the youth national teams and play in a men’s league out there. I had no idea there was a senior national team when I first got there.  After a few months of being there (that’s all I thought I would last) I was approached and told about a team they are putting together to try and qualify for the Olympics. I knew I would be an idiot to turn down that opportunity, So I ended up getting my Israeli citizenship and started the journey that would eventually get us into the Olympics.

Israel was one of the six baseball teams to qualify for the Olympics. I believe that I saw that the other 5 teams (Japan, USA, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and South Korea) were ranked in the top 7 of the world while Israel was somewhere in 20s. That's incredible! I'm not sure that I have a question here other than how did you do it?

Israel baseball has to be one of the greatest underdog stories in team sports history. It took a lot of mental toughness and believing in one another.  Before our first game in Bulgaria in July of 2019, no one really knew anyone.  We had all met here and there leading up to the start of the tournament, but Bulgaria was the first time we were all together, practicing and playing as a team.  We had to trust that the next guy up could get the job done, and that is just what we did….believed in one another’s abilities.

What was it like playing and practicing with former major leaguers like Ian Kinsler, Danny Valencia, Ryan Lavarnway, and more?

A dream come true.  I have played with some great players throughout my years, but none can compare to the pros that were on Team Israel.  Growing up, everyone always knew of Kinsler as really being the only Jewish player in the MLB at the time, and the fact that I got to share the same field as him is truly awesome.  The pros really showed us what it was like to carry yourself as a professional and how to represent Israel in the best way possible.  They also had a couple cool stories to tell along the way.

Was it at all disappointing that you were selected as an alternate but not able to travel to Japan for the Olympics?

Yeah of course.  It was a little bit of a bittersweet ending.  You had a bunch of guys that were on the original team that qualified as alternates, and they add guys to the team who had nothing to do with us qualifying. They just benefited on our behalf. It is what it is though, still the best baseball experience I have ever had.

Although you're an outfielder, I saw that you pitched in the 2019 European Championship against Spain. Can you share your experience pitching for likely the first time in years? In addition, did you know that the final batter you retired (Fernando Martinez) in that scoreless inning played 99 games in the majors with the Mets and Astros?

That was the first time I had pitched since senior year of high school.  I was joking with the coaches all week about how they should let me pitch if the situation arose.  We were down big and the game didn’t mean anything, so instead of wasting one of our pitchers arms they threw me in there. It was a lot of fun and brought back some good memories from when I would pitch growing up.  I actually did not know that, but when we played Netherlands, I got Roger Bernadina to line out into a double play.  He was a big prospect with the Phillies and Nationals.

(Sean's note: I remember Roger Bernadina and even took a picture of a guy wearing his jersey at my kids' 2019 elementary school fall festival event. Bernandina last played in Washington in 2013, so I was impressed by random jersey appearance.)

I'm from Pittsburgh and am a lifelong Pirates fan. Do you have any stories about your teammate Jeremy Bleich who is a staff assistant for the Pirates and does research and documentation for games for the team? Could he get you free tickets if you see a game at PNC Park?

My dad's side of the family is actually from Squirrel Hill, so Pittsburgh has a special place in my heart.  Bleich is a great guy and easily the funniest one on the team. He was a great teammate and is now an even better friend.  

So what's next for you both personally and professionally whether it's about the Israeli baseball team or something else?

I can happily say that I am officially retired from baseball.  My golf career has now started.  I would like to get into real estate.  I am currently leasing apartments in the Philly area

Finally, my 10 year-old son is playing baseball for the first time this season. (I'm not counting the coach-pitch league he was in a few years ago.) Do you have any general baseball advice for him?

Have fun.  Regardless of how hard baseball is, it's still just a game.  Enjoy every second of it because in a blink of an eye it’ll all be over……..  

Thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer my questions. Please follow him on Twitter at @j_rosenberg34 and on Instagram at @jakerosenberg_1

Photos from Jake Rosenberg

Monday, September 06, 2021

My 9/11 Story

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is this Saturday, and there will probably be many TV shows, videos, and articles to commemorate this tragedy. I realized that I never really shared where I was on 9/11, so I thought I would do that now.

I moved to Alexandria, Virginia on August 1st, 2001 after earning my Masters degree in higher education a few months earlier. My girlfriend (who is now my wife) got a job in Fairfax County and although I didn't have a job yet, I figured that the Washington DC area was a great place for me with so many colleges and universities here. While I applied for many positions, nothing panned out, so I went to a temp agency. My first job was a 3-day gig demonstrating a Harry Potter board game at the Springfield Mall. No, not this Springfield Mall.

My next temp job was doing data entry at an educational organization in Old Town Alexandria. The job and organization had nothing to do with my Masters degree, but while I continued looking for a full-time job in my field, I had to pay the rent. On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I was driving from my apartment to that job listening to Howard Stern when I heard about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. It was unclear what was happening, and I parked and arrived at the office when the second plane hit. That was when everyone started to realize the gravity of the situation. The organization didn't have a television, so we gathered around a radio to get news. There were much fewer websites in 2001, and sites where you could look for information like ABC or CNN couldn't handle the traffic. Any news websites were painfully slow if you could even get on. Cell phone service was also non-existent with everyone calling each other. In 2001, you couldn't use your cell phone to browse the internet, and I don't think that texting was even an option. (I didn't even have a cell phone yet.) So we just sat there, mostly in silence, listening to the radio.* 

There was a lot of confusion and information being thrown around. Besides the World Trade Center, I remember there being reports about something happening in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and a bombing at the State Department in DC. Those turned out to be false. A plane hitting the Pentagon in Arlington and another plane crashing in Shanksville, PA were sadly true. 

After a few hours, the company's director told us to go home. Everyone was in shock and no one could do any work. It was a surreal drive home. I was only 6 miles away from the Pentagon and could smell burnt metal. There was lots of traffic, but it was extremely quiet. 

I don't remember much from the rest of the day. I was pretty much glued to the TV watching videos of the plane hitting the second tower and then the two towers both going down. I talked to my parents at some point. Some friends knew that I moved to the DC area but didn't know exactly where, so they wanted to make sure I was okay. I tried to contact several friends in New York to make sure they were okay.

Things were eerie in the DC area for weeks and months after 9/11. Washington National Airport was closed for some time. For any flights out of Washington Dulles, the flight crew would announce that you could not stand up for the first 30 minutes. You couldn't stand up during the last 30 minutes descending into DC either. There were definitely dirty looks from passengers and angry announcements by airplane staff if someone did. The Pentagon Metro station was also closed for months. I remember taking the Blue Line from the Franconia/Springfield station into DC, and you would pass right through an empty Pentagon station. 

As for me, I returned to the temp job either on Wednesday or Thursday and stayed for a few more weeks. Then, I got a job with a company that did emergency management. Only a few weeks into this, I traveled to Florida to do a training scenario with a local community's lead public employees in government, police, fire, etc. Since this wasn't exactly a "high profile" target location, the scenario was that a terrorist was driving a dirty bomb from one place to another and crashed in this area. Everyone had to describe what to do and how they would communicate. Most of what I did was change the slides of a presentation. 

This was also around the time of Anthrax attacks where this poisonous powder was mailed to Senators and media members. The company received a contract to figure out contingency plans if a big government agency could no longer use their space. How many offices would be needed and how many people could fit in the office? What supplies and equipment would be needed? I learned a lot about OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations. I also learned that I shouldn't have worn a Steelers short-sleeve polo shirt to an important meeting where everyone else wore suits and ties and dresses. I stayed at this job for a few months before they didn't have enough work to keep me. I also got a security clearance that has now lapsed many years ago.  

After 9/11, people definitely seemed nicer to each other (though this wasn't the case for many Muslims and Sikhs in America). People were scared but also came together. As we know, that didn't last. 20 years is a really long time. Current college students and anyone younger than that have no direct recollection of 9/11. For example, Katie Ledecky was 4. Najee Harris was 3. Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo weren't born yet. For my kids who are in elementary school with little sense of time and history, 9/11 and World War II could have happened around the same time.

I'm writing this just before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. This is a time of teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah meaning repentance, prayer, and charity. It's also a time of reflection. Given that I'm writing just before the Rosh Hashanah, I'll probably think about 9/11 and the aftermath at some point, possibly if my mind wanders during services. I'll also watch some of the 9/11 programming for this 20th anniversary and be transported back to 2001. Please be good to one another.

* I don't want to share the name of the radio personality here, but I remember one specifically saying that this (meaning 9/11) would still be remembered in 1,000 years. Even during the shock of the moment, I found this to be a ridiculous statement. I mean, what do you know that occurred 1,000 years ago? Maybe the Battle of Hastings? The Magna Carta (which was actually 800 years ago but I had to look that up)? 

UPDATE: After I published this post, I remembered something from just after 9/11. Not long after I started working for the emergency management company, my supervisor and I drove over the American Legion bridge connecting Virginia and Washington DC. He noticed the wind direction and said it was important on the direction to leave DC in case there was a dirty bomb. Good times!

Photos by Robert Clark, the US Department of Defense website, and Jin S. Lee from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website.