Let’s Go Tribe

We moved to Cleveland in the summer of 1997. My family had spent the last 8 years in San Antonio, so my relationship with baseball was almost non-existent. Occasionally I’d catch a Braves game or Cubs game on cable, but for me, the sport of summer (and fall and winter and spring) was basketball. Being born in Chicago, I rooted for the Cubs, but only because they always seemed like a fun team to like. Good, but not too good. Ryne Sandberg. Andre Dawson. On TV more than most teams. Weird TV personalties. And so forth. I had a Cubs hat and I’m pretty sure there’s a picture somewhere of me dressed up as a Cubs player for Halloween when I was 8 or 9. I gave no damns one way or another about a goat, though. I didn’t live or die by their wins and losses. That was reserved for Tennessee football and Spurs basketball.

But then I moved to Cleveland in 1997 and began to understand that while basketball may be more entertaining and football might capture America’s short attention span, baseball is the sport that feeds your soul. I spent the summer not knowing anyone, (badly) shooting baskets in my driveway during the day and watching the Indians from time to time at night. I lived in the same town as a baseball team in the summer and they were on every night! I had never experienced this growing up – a team and a sport that was available to you every day.

Baseball fits life. Every day is the same but slightly different. Some days become magical. Others become regrettable. Every once in a while you get a bunch more good days than bad and all of a sudden it’s October.

I wasn’t a fan of the Cleveland Indians in 1997, but I watched, and then school started, and it became clear I should be watching, so I watched more. I watched a team that I guess wasn’t as good as the team two years prior make it to the World Series. I saw the error and Jose fuckin’ Mesa and Edgar fuckin’ Renteria and the Marlins celebrating.

The following season, my friend Chad demanded that I take some unused Indians tickets and go with him to a seemingly unremarkable game between the Tribe and the Rays. It was May and I wasn’t ready to care about the Indians again yet. It turned into the best baseball game I’ve ever seen live, an entire master class on mid-90’s John Hart-built Cleveland Indians baseball in one spring night that was in turn average, regrettable, and then magical.

I’ve followed the Tribe since that day. High school summers consisted of going to the games or watching the games in one of my friends’ basement. In 2001, my college roommate Thad, a Mariners fan, and I were not on speaking terms for ALDS week, despite my low expectations and his historically good team. The next year the Tribe traded Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore, a trade that showed me and Geoff and Chad how much better fantasy sports could and should be. In 2007, I went to the Midges Game and I watched in my apartment in Boston as Kenny Lofton got held at third base at Fenway.

Now it is 2016 and I run a fantasy sports company I founded in large part thanks to that baseball game in 1998 and that trade in 2002. I met the danged Indians GM. I’m still close with my friends who taught me about baseball, Cleveland fandom, and life. There were some average days, a bunch of regrettable days, and even more magical days. All of a sudden it’s October and the Indians are back in the World Series.

Terry

Yesterday, I wrote about my last 100 days.

Today, I’m in Kacey’s parents’ kitchen, listening to her vacuum the basement and waiting to go to the hospital.

Everyone’s story is the same, and everyone’s story is different. All your personal dynamics are magnified and all your relationships are strained. You plead for every minute you can get and then wonder if it is even fair to want more time. You expect to reach a limit of how much you can cry.

There isn’t a limit. You don’t run out of tears. That miracle of science, the human body.

One day, and it is impossible to know when, everything will be over. You have no say in how and when it ends. At the very end, you will have no one to answer to except yourself.

Terry Cox welcomed me into her family before I even met her. She has raised two daughters, one of whom I am in love with. She is smart, funny, caring, and makes the best steak I’ve ever eaten. She is why I had to try.

100 Days Gone

Screenshot 2015-08-25 10.22.33

Today marks 100 days since I left Vox Media to work on ottoneu full-time. I only decided to give notice once I set some goals for myself, and 100 days seems as arbitrary a time to check in on progress as any.

In no particular order, my goals were:

  • Be happier
  • Eat healthier
  • Pick up a freelance contract or two
  • Cut expenses
  • Launch a fantasy football game before August

Be Happier

Without casting aspersions or unpacking my various neuroses, it was pretty clear that I was very unhappy with my full-time job. Once I recognized this, I had to move on to another project, because it was clear that the enjoyment I had working at Vox Media was not going to return. Until biting the bullet and leaving Vox, I was not sure if my unhappiness was directly related to my job or if my unhappiness at work was a symptom of something else. I can say pretty confidently that I am happier now for a variety of reasons, so in the end that is all that matters. I loved working at Vox Media and gained some of my best friends while working there, but all things must draw to an end so that the next thing can begin.

Eat Healthier

I eat out less, I cook more, I eat fruit, I don’t have soda or a fistful of M&Ms available whenever I want, and thus I have been eating healthier. Most of this is due to my wonderful girlfriend, who I live with as of last week. She does crazy things like “buys groceries” and “encourages me to eat things other than candy and meat”. Either way, healthier eating was a goal going into this whole thing and progress has been made on that front.

Pick up a freelance contract or two

I’ve had one completed contract, one contract that is on-going, and potential for a couple more contracts in the near future. If you want to get a contract, you are not above getting a beer or taking a phone call with anyone. I took all the phone calls, listened to all the half-assed ideas, went to bars in faraway lands like Foggy Bottom and West End, and I landed enough income to keep things going for a few more months. Without a full-time job, I believed that this effort was required, and it has paid off so far.

Cut Expenses

Eating out less helped a lot on this front, but making a plan with Kacey and keeping track of it has helped a lot too. It is also a lot easier to mindlessly buy things when you have a full-time job than when you don’t. There is still a lot to be done to improve this, but the plan is continuing to come together.

Launch a fantasy football game before August

Done.

I’ve accomplished all of these goals to various degrees. I know I could still eat a bit healthier, but who couldn’t? I could always be happier, but again, who couldn’t? My mood has improved a lot, my diet has improved a lot, I feel in control of my own destiny, and hey, I launched a fantasy football game too! Overall, I give myself a B+.

ottoneu, Round 2

I’m going back to working on ottoneu full-time. May 15th will be my last day at Vox Media.

I started working at Vox Media in October 2011. I’ve learned a tremendous amount there and was able to make a significant impact on the teams I worked on and the overall company. It has been a great place to work.

The first time around, I only gave myself 11 months of working on my own business full-time. ottoneu has grown, and I need to see if I can make it better. My immediate plan is to launch a dynasty football game in early-to-mid-July and then revisit daily fantasy sports contests. This might be wildly successful and become my last job, but it also might be a waypoint to the rest of my career. One thing is for sure – I will be able to say I tried.

Try To Breathe As The World Disintegrates

TV On The Radio released a new album today (Monday). I saw them last night (Sunday) at the 9:30 Club, and it was excellent. But let me back up.

I’ve seen TV On The Radio 3 times by my count (as if any other count matters) – once in Boston, once in San Francisco, and now in DC. The Boston show was excellent, but the San Francisco show in 2011 struck me as rather sad. Well, of course it did – the bassist passed away from lung cancer about 20 days before the show, and I couldn’t imagine trying to entertain the SF yuppie crowd after going through THAT. But let me back up.

Sophomore year in high school, some kid gave me Hum’s Downward is Heavenward. This album remains one of my favorite albums of all time, a space-rock epic in which the songs all sound like the future instead of a collection of easily decipherable instruments played in a studio or a garage or whatever. Radiohead then dropped OK Computer and everyone understood that sentence I just wrote. Textures, other-worldly sounds – a huge departure from The Blue Album or The Colour and The Shape.

Fast-forward a couple more years and Zach lightly recommends an LP (not quite an album, but longer than an EP, ugh remember all these terms?) from some band called TV On The Radio. I ignored his recommendation at my own peril. Then 2006 rolls around and Return to Cookie Mountain and all that spaced out future-rock is back, except with a tighter connection to the realities of the human condition.

So, TVoTR was making all this excellent other-worldly beautiful music full of textures and significantly lacking obvious guitar parts, and then their world exploded in April 2011.

And then today their new album comes out, and last night at the 9:30 Club they started their all-around excellent set with … “Young Liars”, track 4 of their 2003 EP that was released before Return To Cookie Mountain, before their first album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, before all of it. And then they ripped into the rest of the set. And then it was fucking amazing.

Let me be clear – I’ve been listening to Seeds on repeat for the last week straight and I am far from tired of it. It is an excellent album from a band that just keeps making excellent albums, full of songs that don’t sound like prototypical songs but are at the same time so very dance-pop. TV On The Radio went away for a few years, for which no one could blame them, and they came back with a fucking epic. And instead of immediately demanding that the DC crowd humor these new songs, they went back to the beginning.

And then they built it all back up right in front of us.

And it was awesome.

Life is what it is – it’s hard but easy, and challenges come up all the time. Sadness fits me like a glove, and so it seems difficult to step past challenges – it is easy to call life hard in a way. Seeing this excellent band come back to form by doing exactly the easy thing in front of them – make a fuckin’ record, make the best goddamn version of the music they already have made – when sadness was easier, when saying the very easiest, most natural thing for this band to do may have been too hard – and then to take this amazing thing they made and remember that it wasn’t some sort of standalone accomplishment but fits naturally within all their accomplishments – well, well-played, TV On The Radio. Well fuckin’ played.

Basically, sometimes shit seems hard. It seems really fuckin’ impossible. But then you see a real good show by this real good band that somehow remained really good through some actual difficulties, and you realize that maybe, just maybe you are making shit harder than it needs to be. Those things you thought were easy actually took more effort than just, you know, enjoying life.

And then you just have to hope it isn’t too late, and maybe you can build it all back up right in front of us. Because, shit, that’s what you’ve been doing this whole time.

The end of football

The other day at work, Josh asked if there was any interest in joining a product team fantasy football league. I said something about hating the NFL, and Eden asked why. I glibly started spouting off some recent PR calamities by the NFL, but I realized this is a thing worth writing out and explaining a bit clearer, because the sport of football and the NFL in particular need either serious revamping or to go away.

There isn’t much wrong with looking at the most recent bit of NFL blowback to understand immediately why the league, which markets itself as a public entertainment, cares more about money than its fans, its players, or society at large. On one hand, the league takes public money to build stadiums that can only be used for very specific types of events, while on the other hand it ignores society directly by saying being 1 milliliter over the limit of a substance that the New York Times just said should be legalized is worse than knocking out a women in an elevator. This is plainly and obviously awful, and it is just the most recent in a string of violent acts by men who have been taught by a sport to be violent. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is terrible, but off-field incidents and inconsequential punishments exist in all sports and in really all walks of life. In a world where no one was arrested for collapsing the U.S. economy, etc.

Like I said, this recent event and every incident like it that the NFL sweeps away to protect its stars and its revenue is terrible. What takes it to the next level is how very clearly the sport of football affects the people who play it, and by extension the people who watch it and support it.

When I was 6, I did not know much in my life. I knew I moved around a bunch growing up, I knew I lived in a place called Nashville that didn’t have any sports, and I knew I was born in Chicago. While Nashville didn’t have any professional sports in 1987, I liked sports a lot for reasons I still don’t quite understand. Being born in Chicago, I immediately determined that I liked the Chicago Bears in the way that children determine they like things – irrationally, unquestioning, wonderfully. I didn’t have many friends and didn’t really care about that, but I liked running around in my backyard pretending to play in the NFL – running around in my Bears Halloween costume pretending to score touchdowns and recreating celebrations I had watched on Sundays.

1987 is also when I got a Nintendo for Christmas. And 1989 is when I got Tecmo Bowl. And then I didn’t have to pretend anymore.

Tecmo Bowl didn’t have a full NFL license because no one knew what that meant yet, but it did have 12 popular teams with the right colors and the right names – the first game to use real names. In 1989, the Bears were still a pretty good team, with a lousy offense but a strong defense headed up by players I had watched and pretended to play with. They weren’t quite as good as New York, with Lawrence Taylor and his automatic blocked extra point, but Mike Singletary and Dave Duerson were really good and it was the team I rooted for. So, I played as Chicago, and I started telling my friends that Dave Duerson was faster than Ronnie Lott (he might have been!) and only second to Lawrence Taylor. And then my friends would come over and I would beat them with the Bears because my defense was excellent. And there was no more reason to play pretend in the backyard, because I had this Nintendo and it extended my imagination pretty damn well.

I grew older and I shook off the Chicago loyalty and started picking up local teams. I also continued to move around – San Antonio, Cleveland, and then on to adulthood. In my parents’ home, there is still a photo up of me, wearing my Bears Halloween costume, celebrating a touchdown like I had seen on Sunday.

In February 2011, Dave Duerson killed himself by a self-inflicted bullet to the chest. He was 50. He asked for his brain to be donated to research in his note to his wife and his son.

In order to play in the NFL, you have to make a high school team, which already is competitive. Then you have to make a college team, and then you have to be one of the 224 people drafted into the NFL (out of 110+ teams times 70+ players, and that only includes Division 1). To be clear, if you make the NFL, you have to care about football in a way few of us care about anything other than ourselves.

Dave Duerson looked at his love of football, his love for his family, his deteriorating mental state, and he had enough self-awareness to put a gun to his chest instead of his brain.

Football, and the NFL in particular, has a number of problems, but they are problems shared with all kinds of large organizations – low accountability, protecting immoral actors, caring about revenue above all else. When suicide is a better option than living with the effects of playing the game, then we have created a modern day gladiator, and each of us individually should reconsider spending time, money, brain space, and breath on the NFL.

In the 3 years since Dave Duerson shot himself, the NFL has done a little to address head trauma in its sport, but it seems pretty plain to me that there is no room to truly address head trauma in the NFL. It would be like addressing the hitting of baseballs with bats in MLB — head trauma is almost the core of the sport itself. I have also done shamefully little to relieve myself of the NFL, because as Josh pointed out, NFL football is packaged into easily consumed bites — not that many games, mostly on Sundays, a manageable number of teams — that makes it simple to put on in the background or watch while also being a dad. The Red Zone Channel, Sunday Ticket, and fantasy sports have only increased how consumable the NFL is, so escaping it is increasingly difficult.

However, in a world where players choose to kill themselves because they know their brains aren’t quite right, where the league gives the weakest punishments for the most heinous crimes — why am I still watching? Why are any of us? CBS sitcoms exist, Jerry Bruckheimer exists, The Bachelor exists — simple, mindless entertainment is not a good enough reason. Once we recognize that, it becomes easier to imagine the end of football.