Roy Halladay, Blue Jay

It can be hard to accept certain things are real.

One of my earliest memories of realizing I dream I had could never come to fruition was that I could never be a professional baseball player. From a young age, I played in local rec leagues and was a player of middling ability. I held out hope for far too long that one day my body would realize it could make my arm throw hard and accurate enough to be a major league pitcher. Eventually reality sunk in. I could only ever be a fan of baseball and of the Toronto Blue Jays.

I am old enough to have been alive for the Jays’ back-to-back World Series titles in the early ’90s, yet I am young enough to have only a slight memory of jumping up-and-down as Joe Carter rounded the bases. Even still, the joy of that moment is ingrained in me. I thought baseball would always be like that. I thought the Blue Jays would always be the best. Starting in 1994, they were not. The team quickly devolved into basement dwellers of the A.L. East, leaving most of the city of the Toronto uninterested in baseball as the decade wore on.

When Roy Halladay made his major league debut for the Jays in 1998, I had just started high school. Baseball had taken a backseat for me as I got introduced to the painful awkwardness of puberty and the general awfulness of, well, being in high school. My fading fandom was also because the Blue Jays didn’t give us fans many things to be excited about. The team was just there, their mediocrity matching my experience in what pop culture had long promised me were going to be the best years of my life.

Notwithstanding hormones and bullies, Roy Halladay’s second career start is one of my best memories from high school. I wasn’t at the game. I don’t even think I watched the whole game on TV. But I remember he came within one out of throwing a no-hitter. I remember he pitched a complete game with only one hit. More than anything, I remember that he gave hope. For Blue Jays fans, it looked like the team finally had a young player who really looked like something.  For me, I saw a player I could rally behind. I thought he was a little awkward and gawky looking, much like me. But his baseball talent looked unreal. You wanted Halladay to be great. And you wanted him to help the Jays win.

As many other articles being written this week will explain, Halladay’s greatness didn’t unfold overnight like we all hoped. There were times where people wrote him off as another Jays bust. I remember rooting for him to figure it out over those three years, while I myself was trying to figure out the social intricacies of being a teenager. Confounded by the latter, I put a much larger focus on being a fan of the Blue jays and a fan of Roy Halladay. I won’t rehash his underdog story here because all that really matters is, by the end of the 2001 season, Halladay was in Toronto to stay.

His legacy as a Blue Jay will not read as a literal champion, but it doesn’t have to. Roy Halladay was the Blue Jays for so many years. He was the reason you turned the game on. He was the reason fans went to the SkyDome. He was the reason you took your non-baseball fan friends to a game. Sure, the team might not amount to much this year but at least you can go watch the greatest active pitcher in his prime. He made Toronto want the Blue Jays to be good again as a reward for him – for his effort, his commitment, and his humanity.

It is a testament to Roy Halladay’s greatness on the field and and graciousness off it that we ultimately wanted him to be traded. We wanted him to go to a team where he could win on a level the Blue Jays could not. He gave his all for the team and they couldn’t hold up their end. Watching him pitch a perfect game and then a no-hitter in his first career playoff start for the Phillies certainly stung, but only for selfish, city-pride related reasons. You could only ever want Halladay to be a champion for himself in the way that he was for Toronto.

And so today I find myself having a hard time accepting that Roy Halladay is gone. He hasn’t pitched since 2013, but he has remained a larger-than-life figure in my baseball fandom regardless. Not only because he was why I went back to watching the team and sport I now enjoy beyond reason, but because he seemed to relish life after baseball so thoroughly. His Twitter was a randomly updated collection of posts and photos about spending time with his family, coaching little league baseball and learning to fly. It seemed like he wore a smile in every single photo, something he never did much of as a player. You no longer felt like you had to root for Roy Halladay.

He was at peace.

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Why Sidney Crosby shouldn’t go to the White House, in terms he can understand

If you haven’t heard, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced they would be accepting an invitation to visit the White House. They did this despite Donald Trump’s expletive-filled, racially-motivated tirade about black NFL players not standing for the anthem. To make this move even more tone deaf, Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby revealed he supported the visit and thinks it’s “a great honour.”

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That Crosby said this despite everything that’s happened in the last week is not very surprising to me. Aside from ingrained white privilege, the real trouble, I think, is that Sidney Crosby does not understand life outside of hockey. Have you ever seen an interview or documentary footage from his day-to-day life? The man does not look comfortable in his own skin unless it’s adorned with a jersey, pads and skates.

So allow me to try to explain to Sidney Crosby why he shouldn’t go to the White House the only way he’ll understand: with hockey terminology.

Hey Sid, look alive now.

Going to the White House is an offside. Your team won’t be advancing the play here. It’s actually like you’ve iced the puck and you have to go all the way back down the ice. You’re as far away as possible from where you want to be.

You’ve got to understand, Sid, that as a white guy, you were born on the power play. There’s a whole lot of people out there with different colour skin who live their whole lives like they’re defending a 5-on-3. And right now, Donald Trump is doing a whole lot of unsportsmanlike conduct to make sure they stay on the disadvantage. The refs have put their whistles away and they won’t be calling any roughing on him.

If you go to the White house, that’s gonna put you in the box. And we’re not talking about a double minor here. You’re looking at a game misconduct. Heck, you could be facing a suspension. Sure, you’ll still be able to put your stick on the ice in an NHL game, but you’re not likely to find yourself playing centre in many street hockey contests.

You’re putting yourself on the away team roster here, Sid. Everyone’s rooting for the team trying to play their way out of the 5-on-3. Going to the White House is like you taking a dive to break up their shorthanded rush. You’re not going to light the lamp playing like that. Your plus-minus will take a big hit after all this.

I know politics isn’t your style of play. But it’s time for you to do some serious backchecking away from this White House visit. You’ve got a chance to change the momentum here. If you give it 110%, you just might bounce back from this.

No more bonehead plays now, eh? Let’s go.

Spoiler Alert: You Might Be A Dick

I am a slow TV watcher. I have only binge-watched the entirety of a TV show once (All five seasons of The Wire in eight days) and crammed in a single season over a weekend a handful of times. I understand that in this day and age, that doesn’t really fly. Every TV show is available to be watched practically instantly all of the time. But I’m not always up-to-date on what’s happening on a TV or Netflix show until a few days or even weeks after it airs. Yes, even Game of Thrones.

So, naturally, I get a lot of stuff spoiled for me. Sometimes it’s because I haven’t watched the latest episode of a show by 9AM the next morning. Other times it’s because I haven’t even starting watching the show that’s four seasons deep. But being a person that has to leave his house for work and interacts with a number of people throughout a normal day, I can’t avoid spoilers.

Because now, not only can we instantly watch a show, we instantly need to talk about it. I’ve started to wonder if I watch a show because I’m worried I won’t have anything to contribute to the conversation at my next dinner party. Do I really want to watch the fifth season of House of Cards? It doesn’t feel like I do.

The problem is if I don’t watch any show within a week or two of its release, there’s about a 75% chance I’m going to have a major plot point spoiled for me. That’s because people don’t want to talk about how great a show is, they want to talk about the few crazy, unexpected moments that happened during a season. For example, I bet you might not immediately recognize the name Gregor Clegane, but you do know what I’m talking about when I say “Red Wedding.” Even though those are both references to Game of Thrones, you’ve likely either seen that appropriately-titled episode or overheard some loudmouth drunkenly gushing about it at a bar. (I should know, because I’ve been that loudmouth.)

Is it unreasonable to ask people to never talk about shows and movies they like in public? Yes. But I have a harder time with people who seem to almost want to spoil a show for you. It’s as if their enthusiasm for the piece of entertainment they just watched needs to be expressed immediately or no one will be able to ever watch that thing again. These people either don’t care or aren’t aware that saying too much robs another person of acquiring that same enthusiasm. And they absolve themselves from guilt by saying something like, “Well it aired last night at 9PM and it’s already 10AM today so you’ve had lots of time.”

I’m not going to pretend I have more important things to do than watch TV all the time (I don’t) but that doesn’t mean I plan my week around the air time of the latest episode of Fargo. All I’m asking for is a couple of days. Maybe even a week. It’s easier for you to go into a room with a door you can close than it is for me to unhear what you just said about Wallace from The Wire. It is not your responsibility to inform me of what happened on the most recent episode of some show you and I both love, but only you have seen. Spoiling it for me does not make you a bigger fan. Binge watching the second season of Master of None on a day I’m not home does not make you a more serious appreciator of television. It means you had less things to do that week.

If you want me to get excited about some new TV episode, let me watch it without knowing what to expect. Or I will be the one who knocks. (That’s not a spoiler. Just a reference. You have to have watched the show to know what I’m talking about.)

Reality Sets In

It’s been ten days since the U.S. presidential election. Given the outcome and what’s been happening in America since, the last thing anyone needs is another thought-piece by a white male with an upper-middle-class upbringing who lives in Canada. I’m writing this anyway for one reason: I expected Donald Trump to be elected.

I was told from a young age that I was too cynical. My retort would always be that I was, in fact, realistic. I don’t think it’s cynical that, even in 2016, I thought Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be elected president because she’s a woman. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I think that falls under a realistic point of view.

Before I go on, I should make it clear that I would have voted for Hillary. But I don’t think it’s realistic that a woman can’t be president. I think it’s realistic that far too many people in the world struggle with the idea that a woman is as qualified (or so, so much more qualified) to do a “man’s job.” Or that women can be confident. Or that they can be opinionated. Or that they can make mistakes. Or that they are entitled to respect. Or that they are men’s equal and often much more.

I would call all of this realistic thinking, but I think I need to explain why. My parents divorced when I was very young and through joint custody I grew up primarily under my Mom’s roof. My mother came from a very traditional family yet knew that being a woman did not dictate what job she might have or how she might live her life. This was the example I was raised under. It’s why I remember from an early age thinking it strange that boys would make so much fun of girls. It’s why I’ve had never thought twice about having a woman as my boss. Most of all, it’s why I’m dumbfounded by the casual and ingrained sexism I witness on a near daily basis.

I’m sure any woman reading this is rolling their eyes at another man being “surprised” that sexism exists. But being raised by a woman that made her own way meant that I, by default, looked up to women. I looked up to my Dad as well, but I honestly can’t remember distinguishing between the two. My exposure to men believing themselves to be superior to women came from everything else I experienced outside my home. I became aware that it existed, even if I couldn’t always understand or appreciate what I was seeing.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never taken it as a given that a man takes precedent over a woman. At least not consciously. But certainly unconsciously. Because that’s our world. The world where a man can openly question a woman’s ability to do a particular job. (I heard this 14 days ago.) The one where a man openly scoffs at the idea that women can have their own conferences to address sexism and the wage gap in their industry. (Less than two months ago.) And the world where some random man on the internet is going to find this post and try to say sexism isn’t real.

This is the world we, as men, live in quite comfortably. Because we always think we have the upper hand. Or we think we’re aware of the problem and that in itself is enough. To that, I plead guilty. But seeing my prediction about Trump come true has left me with a deeply unsettling feeling that’s made me know being aware isn’t enough for me anymore.

This election should be a nasty wake up call for my fellow men that misogyny and sexism is alive and well in our world. If you have ever questioned it or believed that you never participated in it, the fact that a bigoted, dangerous buffoon has been made president because he has a penis should make you believe. If this election result isn’t the best reason to question all of your own thoughts and actions, then things aren’t likely to get better. That’s just the reality of our world.

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[Note: that’s not quite the exact quote, but you get the idea.]

A right to life. And to choose.

A few months ago, I happened upon an article in Toronto Life about assisted suicide. Specifically, about a man who had helped people take their own life in secret. At the end of the article, there is a very long and heated “debate” going on in the comments section. I know, I know, don’t read the comments. But this is a subject that is important to me, as I believe assisted suicide should be a legal option for the terminally ill. So my curiosity got the better of me.

Naturally, there are strong reactions to the idea of being able to take your own life. Many people (like myself) who have witnessed the suffering of family and friends see assisted suicide as an act of compassion. Opponents of the idea label it as a coward’s way out, or something that will be a slippery slope and abused my those who don’t actually need it. And then there are those who think it’s wrong in the eyes of God.

Full disclosure: I don’t believe in God. I “practiced” religion until around the age of 12. Then my Mom allowed me to make my own decisions. I have no problem with those who do believe, though. In many ways, I admire their faith and commitment. What I do have a problem with is using the idea of a God as a reason to not allow something to become law.

In my (admittedly very subjective) experience, many of the opponents of assisted suicide invoke the idea that all humans have a “right to life” and therefore we cannot allow people to take their own lives. There’s a concern that people will be wrongfully coerced into using assisted suicide when they don’t really need to, or that they will die shortly before a drug was discovered that could have cured them. This is, in fact, exactly what was suggested by the most outspoken opponent in the comments on the article.

Most of his arguments stemmed from a column he wrote where he outlined the following scenario:

“A strong, healthy man suffers from a disease. He wastes away to a shadow of his former self. He is all skin and bones. Death is imminent. The doctors are telling him there is no cure, no treatment left. At this point, he considers assisted suicide to avoid the pain and suffering and maybe to save his family some of the money being spent on his care. He goes through with it. In a short time, he is killed by a physician. And the very next week, a new drug is discovered which could have allowed that man to make a complete recovery.”

Of course, that is always a possibility. But is it a realistic one? Or even remote? To me, this reads like a fantasy. It is talking in absolutes. If only someone didn’t kill themselves, a miracle drug would have been created a week later!

I will admit that this is a possibility, however remote. But if the terminally ill have a right to life, don’t they have the right to choose death? The idea with assisted suicide is that the patient chooses to end their life rather than endure an excruciating death. And yes, they are eliminating the unlikely possibility of being saved by a miracle drug. That’s their choice.

There seems to be a theme from the right to life crowd, which is that they claim making this law will make suicide and assisted suicide one in the same. I have yet to see any convincing argument as to why that would be true. I also find it interesting that they say you have a right to life, but apparently you don’t have a right to choose.

To me, our right to choose is as ingrained and essential as our right to life. In Canada, we have the privilege to make choices about our lives. I think, in the case of terminal illnesses, that should include being able to choose to die. It is not cowardly and it is not morally wrong. It, ideally, is an informed choice made because of the finite nature of existence. We don’t have to have our suffering and our death decided by nature. Certainly not by God.

Personally, I am thankful that our government is basing our laws in the reality in front of us. They are acknowledging that to be human is to have the right to live and, eventually, the right to choose to not.

If you’re interested in the subject of assisted suicide, I suggest you watch the documentary How To Die In Oregon. For or against, it’s moving to watch.

A Briefly Sober Reality

For the month of February, I have been participating in Dry Feb – an initiative to raise money for cancer research by not drinking for the month. I’d be lying if I said going sober for a month wasn’t motivated by selfish reasons. I’ve wanted to try to cut back on drinking for a while and I’ve tried doing it many times. Usually, I’d start with the goal of not drinking for a month but only make it one or two weeks before going back to my regular drinking routine. I figured with the incentive of raising money for the Canadian Cancer Society, I could make it the whole month. After 24 days, that’s proving to be true.

When I talked about having a “regular drinking routine,” that’s not to say I’m a heavy drinker. Like many people, my drinking heyday was in university. And a few more years after. Now, I will go out to a bar once or twice a week. Rarely will I have more than three or four beers. Somehow that still feels like too much to me. I keep wanting to cut down. Maybe that’s because I’m in my 30s and it feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do. But as much as I might cut back, I think I will always enjoy having one beer after a long day.

What I have noticed in my three-plus weeks of sobriety is how badly I want that one single beer at the end of a stressful day. I’m surprised how closely I associate beer with winding down. (Yes, I’ve read the studies that says it does the opposite.) If it weren’t for my sobriety being connected to a charity, I definitely would’ve cracked a while ago. A particularly long week at work left me smelling other people’s open bottles of beer just to get anything resembling a fix.

Luckily for me, I know I can enjoy a beer come March 1st. Now that work has slowed back down, I’m not exactly dying for a cold one. But I will certainly enjoy one next Tuesday. Aside from a break from drinking, this month has given me an appreciation for just how difficult sobriety must be for everyone out there staying sober for legitimate reasons. The normalcy of my life doesn’t depend on staying sober. My family doesn’t depend on it. My job doesn’t depend on it. I have the luxury of not having to face alcohol as a life-altering addiction.

I thought will-power would be getting through four weeks of depriving myself of booze. That’s nothing compared to having to change your whole life to avoid it. It’s nothing compared to putting in the genuine work of not giving into temptation. Because obviously our culture completely revolves around alcohol. It’s a part of pretty much all adult social events. Make no mistake, staying sober might be the act of not doing something, but it is without a question a very hard thing to do.

This might all sound like going sober has caused me to have some kind of epiphany. But that’s not the case. Abstaining from drinking isn’t changing my life. I don’t feel any different. I haven’t lost weight. (Though I do make better use of my weekend mornings.) The only real difference is a clearer realization of how powerful alcohol is, how dependent I am on it (if only for recreational use) and how we ought to give a lot more respect to people who choose to stay away from it. They might need to.

This Budweiser Anti-Drunk-Driving PSA Isn’t An Anti-Drunk-Driving PSA

Budweiser just released their 2016 Super Bowl commercial four days ahead of the actual game, as now seems to be commonplace. The commercial itself, labelled as a drunk driving PSA, stars Helen Mirren telling any would-be drunk drivers that they are, basically, the lowest scum on the earth. The problem is, this isn’t an anti-drunk-driving PSA.

Have a look for yourself.

The commercial starts with Helen Mirren saying, “Ooh, my beer, lovely” after she’s been served with a Budweiser. So the first thing the ad is hitting the viewer with is beer. And not just any beer, but a fresh, sweet, sweet, frosty Budweiser. The King Of Beers, lest you forget.

Mrs. Mirren goes on to make some very frank declarations about how dumb and useless you are if you drink and drive. And I agree with all of them. Drunk driving is a very serious problem that doesn’t get nearly enough attention or have nearly harsh enough consequences.

However, I can’t help but feel that most people watching this ad will agree, too. No one ever comes out in support of drunk driving. So it’s not like Budweiser is doing anything notable here. They’re just doing what they know they have to do every once in a while, as one of the world’s largest beer manufacturers. But I can’t remember watching an “anti-drunk driving” PSA that so actively advertises beer. In fact, this drunk driving PSA makes me thirsty for a beer.

Forget the fact that Helen Mirren gets all matter-of-fact and tells potential drunk drivers that the whole world will thank them for not drinking and driving. That’s the middle bit of the ad. People are going to spend more time thinking, “Hey! It’s Helen Mirren gettin’ sassy” than they will actually listening to what she’s saying. They’ll see the perfectly lit bottle of Budweiser sitting next to a deliciously styled burger and fries. They’ll notice the beautifully staged pub she’s sitting in. And they’ll most certainly remember that this drunk driving PSA starts and ends with Helen Mirren talking about how great cold, fresh beer is.

This is a beer ad camouflaged as a PSA. It’s basically saying, “You shouldn’t drink and drive, but you should definitely drink. Isn’t beer delicious?” The ad features no suggestions for how you might avoid drinking and driving, it just says you’re an idiot if you drink and drive. No shit. How about giving people a reminder to call a cab, or a friend, or take the bus, or even walk home? You might plant that seed in their mind. Instead, this ad just tries to be memorable by having a famous woman with an English accent say some pithy things. All while enjoying a beer. Yes, that definitely makes me want to drive and not drink.

This is a PSA for Budweiser and how awesome it is. The company is down with Helen Mirren. She even drinks it! Maybe even in real life! You should drink it too! That’s why this alleged anti-drunk driving message ends with her holding a Budweiser saying, “Cheers. Ah, nice and cold.”

I don’t know about you, but I could really go for a beer.