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Tony, We’ll Miss You

When we were young and impressionable it used to be pretty easy to have heroes. Whether they were athletes, politicians, or even fictional “super-heroes” it was easy to focus on the great things they did. If they had flaws, they weren’t obvious. Members of the younger generations now have a much more difficult time finding heroes. These days it’s much harder to see people so positively because we know so much more – both good and bad – about them. Today, a president could not be confined to a wheelchair with more than 90% of the American public being unaware of it as was the case while FDR was president.

So it is with heartfelt sorrow that I reminisce about the great Tony Gwynn who had only one known vice – chewing tobacco (which ultimately led to his passing away from cancer). A few weeks ago, Mr. San Diego left us and we are all poorer for it. There are countless truly touching stories from a wide array of people whose lives were touched for the better by this baseball great. Bring a few tissues with you and browse the internet to see just how great he really was as a player, but more importantly, as a person.

I’ll just list a few of the traits that converted me to being a lifelong Tony Gwynn fan.

As a hitter there were none greater during his era. Even the best pitchers (Glavine, Maddox, Martinez) could not consistently get him out. He won 8 batting titles and batted above .300 for 19 years. As a fielder he also won 5 gold gloves. He even stole 56 bases one year. Despite all these accomplishments, nobody has ever heard about them from Tony. As I taught my children and the children I coached to be humble in success, there was no better role model than Tony, the greatest hitter of his era.

Due to his amazing success, Mr. Gwynn had numerous opportunities to move to other teams and make more money. Nevertheless, he turned down these offers and remained with the same team for 20 years. He also showed this same level of commitment in his charity work, family life, and preparation for baseball. Where a less committed person might ease off the hours and hours of studying to improve his performance, Tony kept up the hard work, recognizing that he might be the best in the game, but he could not be the best he could be if he eased off.

Tony Gwynn and Erica

Tony at a restaurant posing with 2 fans – one being my daughter Erica

Tony had a frequent and contagious laugh which seemed a perfect match for his generous nature. If there is anyone about whom it can be said “he enjoyed the journey” it was Tony Gwynn. Despite the pressure of professional baseball or coaching a top division college team or raising a family in these difficult times, Tony never took himself or the vicissitudes of life too seriously. He would always take the time to laughingly share a story with old or new friends. Even at the end of a long day he’d make sure that no young child, awed just to be in his presence, was left with an empty autograph pad or a frown on his face.

The closest I ever came to meeting Tony were the few times I had good seats at a Padre game. However, he significantly impacted my life by allowing my children and the kids I coached in both baseball and softball to have an untainted hero. Everybody in San Diego, even non-baseball fans, knew what it meant to “do it like Tony would.” It meant to give it your all, but to do so humbly, and to have fun along the way. A perfect role model for both young and old has left us – felled by that one and only vice.

Reconnecting … and Recharging

There are some days I wonder why I continue to be a school transportation director.  There’s certainly not a long line of applicants for the job. I usually quickly put those thoughts out of my mind and get to work providing service for students and their parents. Frequently this means dealing with angry and upset parents, irritated administrators, and frustrated staff. On those days I console myself in the firm belief that I am making a difference in the lives of students.

Last Friday was one of those days. A brief perusal of my calendar presaged the tedium of multiple meetings punctuated by the occasional “customer service” call. Not realizing that the day would turn out to be so busy, a couple of weeks earlier I had agreed to visit one of our elementary schools to read to students during Literacy Week. Read the rest of this entry

Are You a Pessimist?

I’m a recovering pessimist. I admit it. In fact, there are times I’m kind of proud of it. Being a cup-half-empty guy doesn’t mean that life is miserable. Quite the contrary; for me it means that I’m never extremely disappointed when something bad not-so-surprisingly occurs. I’m also frequently pleasantly surprised by that positive thing I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen.  In fact, I would argue that being a realistic pessimist (some would call us healthy skeptics or even pragmatists) allows a certain freedom. Because I’m pessimistic I take the extra time to help prevent that horrible event that just might happen. This allows me the comfort of knowing that, when I celebrate a success, the celebration probably isn’t going to be interrupted by something awful. Healthy skepticism or pessimism encourages us to prepare for the worst. It frequently keeps us from being surprised and, in many ways, it makes us better managers.

The challenge, Pessimismas a pessimist, is to not let your expectations bias other people’s actions. For example, whether or not I believe that the Zags (Gonzaga) will go out in the second round of the NCAA championships, despite being ranked #1 in the nation, shouldn’t impact how the team will play. If I were the coach however, it would be best if I kept my doubts to myself.  As a leader, it is important to project confidence and a “can do” attitude. If you let your pessimism (or skepticism) rule then you are far less likely to succeed.

To lighten things up on our blog I’ve created the following quiz to help you determine if you’re a secret or out-of-the-closet pessimist too.  Count the number of statements you agree with.

  1. When I don’t hear anything on the dispatch radio, instead of believing everything is functioning smoothly, I’m more likely to believe the radio isn’t working.
  2. When no one raises any questions after a complex training, I’m as likely to assume they didn’t “get it” rather than assuming we did such a good job teaching and they did such a good job learning.
  3. When the kids were young and they were “playing quietly” I just knew something was wrong.
  4. When the host or hostess tells you it will be a ten minute wait for your table, you know it’ll be longer (but they don’t want to lose you as a customer.)
  5. “No news” probably doesn’t mean “good news.”
  6. When you see a pint glass that has only 8 ounces of water in it you think either a) half empty or b) someone’s inefficiently assigned the wrong size glass for that water.
  7. When the weather forecaster says it will be clear with light breezes this weekend he is just as likely to be describing what’s going on in his head as the actual weather forecast.
  8. When the service company says they’ll be there between 8 and 12, they really mean they have no clue when they’ll be there and they’ll probably be there at 12:15 just after you’ve left home.
  9. The bus inspector will almost always choose to inspect the one bus that we were too nauseous to finish cleaning last night when returning from a nausea-inducing ride down the mountain.
  10. I’ve always had a fondness for the saying “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
  11. Rush hour seems to change based upon the time I get on the freeway.

If you agreed with 6 or more of the above statements, welcome to the club, fellow pessimist.  Hold your head high (but watch out for low hanging objects.)

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