One week

Nuggets from my week ...

Monday. I started my day by waking at 5 a.m., and by 6 a.m. I was driving to Omaha to take my GRE -- another challenge on my path to a master's degree. Not fun.

Because my admission to the graduate program happened so quickly this fall, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to prepare for it. I spent the last week cramming. Everything about this exam left me feeling uneasy. 

I arrived at the Omaha campus -- which seemed like a maze of ugly concrete buildings compared to the enchanted forest of our campus --  around 8 a.m., right on time when you consider the instructions that suggested test-takers arrive a half hour ahead of the test, which was supposed to begin at 8:30. Then, I pumped a parking meter full of quarters and walked the block or so to the testing center.

When I arrived there, I was greeted by a couple of desk workers, who had me sign a few papers, confirm my identity and empty my pockets into a personal locker; the use of any devices other than the pencil, blank paper and computer provided was strictly prohibited. Then, one of the desk workers led me into a room that was no bigger than a large closet with four computers lining a wall. She helped me log on to one of the computers and instructed me to begin answering the confirmation questions that appeared on the screen.

Now, I had envisioned taking the test in a classroom full of people and desks, with a computer at each. I also figured I'd answer the confirmation questions on the screen, and then wait for an official prompt to start the test at 8:30 a.m. ... Nope. I finished the confirmation questions and then -- bam! -- there was the first question of the exam. An essay question, no less. ... No time to take a deep breath. No time to center myself. It was go time and the clock was ticking in the upper right corner of the screen.

There were six sections, each lasting about 30 minutes. A couple essay questions, some reading, and a lot of high-level math that I'm positive -- not even in my wildest dreams -- I'll never use in the context of my master's degree. ... I felt like I handled the essay questions well. The reading so-so. But the math kicked my butt. I ran out of time on two sections, forcing me to click away with guesses on the unanswered questions while the clock counted down from 30 seconds, just to at least give myself a chance of getting some points.

I finished the exam at about 12:30 and couldn't wait to get out of there. Then, to top it off I had a parking ticket waiting for me on my windshield. Apparently, the parking meter wasn't working ... The good news was the campus has a policy that relieves visitors from parking fines; I was able to turn in the ticket and get off the hook. The bad news was I lost about $4 worth of quarters in that dang parking meter.

I was so beat mentally, I couldn't wait to get home, get in our yard, relieve some of the stress and put my mind on other things. I worked outside until the sun went down, ripping weeds and overgrown plants from a flower bed along the side of our garage.

In the meantime, I'm anxiously awaiting my scores.

* * *

Tuesday. Frank Warren of PostSecret fame came to our campus for a lecture.

Until the announcement of his appearance on our campus came a few weeks ago, I'd never heard of PostSecret ... I know, right!? How was that possible?

The premise and the website is both amusing and powerful, and I can see why it is so popular, especially among young people.

When I arrived at the auditorium for the news conference, an hour before the lecture, people already were lined up at the doors. And when we did open the doors, the students took off running down the aisles to claim the closest seats. The lecture was free, but we gave away every ticket -- a rarity for our lectures.

Mr. Warren's affable personality engaged the audience immediately, and I found it fascinating to hear him tell the reasons he started the project and the stories behind some of the secrets he's received.

But what made the experience more memorable still was the open mic period at the conclusion of the lecture. With a mic standing on each side of the auditorium, he invited people to step up and share their secrets. No one accpted his invitation initially; that always happens, he explained, but eventually the lines begin forming and soon there's so many people waiting that he'll have to end the lecture before each waiting person has a turn.

That's exactly what happened. Soon students were stepping up and sharing deep, dark, heart-wrenching secrets about experiences with drugs, rape, suicidal thoughts and sexuality. One girl shared she was so ashamed by her sexuality that she sometimes wishes her mother would have followed through on her plan to have an abortion. ... As the secrets came out, you could see tears streaming down cheeks and hear the sniffs across the entire auditorium.

Warren's message was simple: That we all have secrets. But by sharing these secrets anonymously we may not only find some relief but also have a positive impact on others. By sharing these secrets, we may help others realize they're not alone in the way they are feeling. Others understand and relate to our secrets, and by sharing these secrets we have an opportunity to breed acceptance.

* * *

Wednesday. The highlight of my day, arguably, as it is on so many days, was driving Phoebe to school.

Another gorgeous sunny day, both of us were sporting our trendy sunglasses. (Actually, it started with Phoebe putting them on at the breakfast table ...) when "American Woman" -- the classic "Guess Who" original, not the lame Lenny Kravitz cover -- came on my iPod.

Both of us were jamming. I was nodding my heat to the beat, and I caught Phoebe in the rearview mirror doing the same.

The song always reminds me of that great scene in "American Beauty" with Kevin Spacey's character rocking out to the song in his car -- I love it. Today, the scene, with Phoebe in the back seat, reminded me of the "Dad Life" video.
* * *

Wednesday night. Wednesday nights are deadline nights for my weekly graduate papers. So I spent the night in my office to finish this week's paper. And keeping an eye on my TweetDeck while magic unfolded on one of the most memorable nights baseball has seen.

I arrived home in time to catch the midnight "Baseball Tonight," and was so caught up in the turn of events that I stayed up until 1 to watch the show. The numbers Karl Ravech and the boys were reeling off were mind boggling.

Tampa came back from nine games down to beat the Red Sox for the wild card. The Cardinals came back from 8.5 down to beat out the Braves.

The Rays came back from seven down in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees to tie the game and eventually win it on a walk-off home run in the 14th inning by Evan Longoria! … Merely three minutes before Longoria’s game winner, the Red Sox lost on a walk-off by the Orioles, effectively eliminating the Red Sox from the post season. Part of the delight in watching the Tweets and status updates come in throughout the night was my realization that my friend Marjie was in Baltimore and at Camden Yards for the Orioles game.

The Cardinals were left for dead by the St. Louis media when September started. I -- for the record -- know better than to ever count out the Cardinals until that “E” for eliminated shows up next to their line in the standings. And whaddaya know, they’re in the post season again, thanks to an epic collapse by the Atlanta Braves ... Like they did in 2006, they're getting hot at the right time and becoming the team to beat.

Watch this ...

Good reads ...

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports ...
“Sometimes, in spite of itself, baseball is perfect. Ridiculously, stupidly, exhaustingly, thrillingly, Longoria-ly and Papelbon-eously perfect. Over five hours on a Wednesday night in late September, when baseball was supposed to be quietly ironing its bunting and hoping people soon would be paying attention again, the game willed itself to incomprehensible greatness. In four games spread over two wild-card races and two time zones, the entrancing narrative not only held the four central protagonists, but peripherally ensnared the two best teams in the regular season, along with two of the worst. Where it counted was in Boston and Atlanta, where promising seasons were dying, and in St. Louis and Tampa Bay, where feint heartbeats a month ago became raucous parties just as the postseason beckoned.”

Tyler Kepner, The New York Times
“In a spellbinding frenzy of baseball at its unpredictable, unforgiving best, a labyrinth of twists took place across 4 hours 55 minutes at ballparks in Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Houston. Only one game was tidy — the St. Louis Cardinals’ 8-0 victory over the Houston Astros. In each of the other games, a team lost the lead with two outs in the ninth inning, and never got it back.”

Tim Sheehan, SI.com ...
“At 9:33 p.m. ET, the rain that was expected to hit Baltimore arrived in the seventh inning with the Red Sox up 3-2 over the Orioles. In St. Petersburg, the Yankees had a shocking 7-0 lead over the Rays despite a pitching staff cobbled together for the day from contest winners and local semi-pro teams. The Red Sox seemed to be nine outs away from saving their season. In Atlanta, the Braves had turned the game over to their fantastic bullpen with a 3-2 lead, and were on their way to a one-game playoff for the wild card with the Cardinals, who were beating up the hapless Astros 7-0 with their ace on the mound. What happened over the next three hours almost defies description, turning the fates of four teams and creating heroes and goats whose names will be repeated the way prior generations talked about Fred Merkle and Christy Mathewson, about Grover Cleveland and Sam Rice, about Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca, about Bucky Dent and Doyle Alexander. For three hours, baseball reminded us that no matter what we think we know, we just don't know anything -- and we love the game for it.”

Jon Paul Morosi, FoxSports.com...
“On the field, at least, the Red Sox were so engrossed in their own tragedy that it was impossible for them to keep track of the events unfolding 1,000 miles away. They could not have known it then, but their fate was about to be sealed. Moments after the last Boston reliever trudged into the dugout, Evan Longoria dug into the batter’s box in St. Petersburg. Back in the eighth inning — what seemed like hours ago — it was his smooth swing that delivered the three-run homer that transformed a 7-3 notion into a 7-6 game. Longoria has always had the moxie that scouts love — the coolness in big spots, the easy confidence that he’ll find a way to win. And here he had another chance. Any Red Sox fan who had kept one eye on the Tampa game, or was familiar with the player holding the Louisville Slugger, knew that this was a perfectly legitimate time to freak the hell out.”

Scott Miller, CBSSports.com...
“While Atlanta was blowing one final game, in the 13th inning to Philadelphia, to complete its collapse and allow St. Louis to grab the NL wild-card slot, the Red Sox were one-upping them.  Boston's loss came at 12:02 a.m. ET.  Longoria's modern-day Shot Heard 'Round the World came at 12:05. Three minutes. It was almost slow motion. The Red Sox went from losing . . . to still hoping for a one-game playoff Thursday in Florida . . . to a sudden-death ending to their season in an all-time collapse.”

Anthony Witrado, The Sporting News ...
“Between text messages, tweets, e-mails and the people in my apartment, the word “Wow!” was typed and shouted somewhere in my immediate vicinity in the neighborhood of 34,593 times Wednesday night, a night that could go down as the best in regular-season baseball history.

As word came in that the Red Sox had lost, Longoria stepped into the box and put the dagger into them. That home run also capped one of the most memorable, exciting, disappointing (for those with vested interests in the Red Sox and Braves) and unbelievable nights in history. On Aug. 31, it appeared that baseball’s playoff races would be decided early, leaving little drama for the final days. But as Boston and Atlanta started to fold, Tampa Bay and St. Louis surged and made Wednesday night one of those special ones.  It was a night that made trudging through the previous six-plus months well worth it.”

Howard Bryant, ESPN.com...
“The sequence of events Wednesday evening may have created the greatest, most intense night of baseball in memory, proof that despite the ratings and rankings and revenues the sport, when played at its highest level, is unmatched for tension. For the Rays, the night of baseball was an intensely personal experience, a microcosm of what this franchise is, where it is, and how it will survive.”

Thomas Boswell, The Washington Post ...
“As the sun sank Wednesday, baseball turned into a world gone wonderfully mad. But as midnight approached, then passed, the glorious insanity fed on itself and went viral. Scoreboard watching shot up an asymptotic curve with fans of four wild-race-race teams desperately fixated on results of games involving eight different clubs, all of ’em playing simultaneously for hours. ...

Hanging in the balance were two wild-card spots and the delectable possibility that the Red Sox might have to go to Florida on Thursday to play the Rays and the Braves might head to St. Louis for two “play-in” games on the same day to see which teams advanced to the playoffs in October.

Two such sudden-death games, as a cannon-shot introduction to the drama of October baseball, would be unprecedented; and the ideal blend of genuine drama and mega-marketing to advertise the sport.

Reality disagreed. Rays and Cards make the playoffs. No games Thursday.”

More good reads ...

... On the Cardinals ...
a Bernie Bytes: Top 10 reasons for Cards' comeback
a Wild Cards complete comeback for the ages
a Burwell: The miracle continues for Cardinals
a Burwell: Excitement is back at Busch

... On the Red Sox ...
a Boston’s collapse is complete after season-ending loss
a For Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, September a month of horrors

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