Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Long, Strange Trip

I found myself thinking about the '90s quite a bit in the last week or so for various reasons. The whole thing started on September 18, which marked the 20th anniversary of my start date at my current employer. I had just finished six years at the Peabody-Beverly Times/Salem News and was pretty burned out by the whole newspaper lifestyle. If a couple of chips had fallen differently, I would have stuck with reporting but it was becoming apparent that I needed to move on. I was the 45th employee at a small trade publishing company called Opus Communications and was immediately dispatched to Pittsburgh to cover a conference of medical staff services professionals. It took a while to get settled in, both to get a grasp of the not-always-exciting subject matter and to get used to sitting at a desk all day.

I lasted four years there before moving on to Webnoize, a dotcom started by a friend of mine; I had a fun two years at that company before it and the Internet bubble in general ran out of money. I went back to my old company, then called HCPro, in November 2001 and I've been there ever since. Granted, the company has changed owners about four times since then, growing to a max of about 300 employees. Two years ago, things were a little touch and go before we were bought by another publisher. The company's fortunes have improved since the sale and things are pretty stable, which is nice. Still, it's crazy to think I was almost 28 when I started there. So many people have come and gone over that time, as you can imagine. And I've had many changes in my life as well, the most important of which are getting married and having kids.

Spending 20 years with one employer used to be no big deal a few generations ago. But in the last 10-15 years, people have become accustomed to jumping around a lot more from job to job, looking for better pay or status or both. There were definitely times when I was desperate to leave, especially during times of serious instability in 2008 and 2012, but for whatever reason I stuck it out. Part of it was having a 10-minute commute and a lot of flexibility, the kind I wouldn't have if I was working somewhere closer to Boston. And it really does, as I've told many people, feel like I've worked for four or five different companies because of the different owners and different situations.

My work anniversary is always closely tied to my birthday because the latter is three days after the former. Monday marked my 48th, which is pretty nuts. I veer from feeling every one of those years when my various ailments (sore heels, sore back, etc.) act up, but then I think about what my father was like at 48--overweight, sedentary, depressed, alcoholic--and compare it to what I'm doing and I realize that his 48 seemed a hell of a lot older than mine. I'm no Peter Pan; there's no midlife crisis here. I just refuse to accept that just because I'm "middle aged," that means I should stop going to rock shows, playing sports, and doing all the other shit I've been doing the last umpteen years. Yeah, the hair's a lot grayer now, but I'm not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.

You know what makes me feel old? Seeing the kids of people I worked with when I started my career getting married and generally being all adult and stuff. Also, the Milwaukee Brewers just named their new general manager, David Stearns, who was born the year I graduated from high school. Now THAT'S some sobering shit right there.

The other flashback-inducing event in my life has been the incredible run made by the Toronto Blue Jays over the last two months. When the Jays traded for Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on July 29, they were a thoroughly mediocre 50-51. A day later, they acquired pitcher David Price from Detroit, giving them their first bona fide #1 pitcher since the mighty Roy Halladay left town after the 2009 season. The Jays already had a tremendous offensive club, but Price stabilized the pitching staff and Tulowitzki provided shutdown defense; a few other acquisitions filled various holes and the team went on a tear for the ages. They caught the division-leading Yankees within two weeks and have been battling them for the division lead, which Toronto now has by 4 games with 9 to play. The magic number is 4 for the division title; they've already clinched a playoff spot.

While this is no big deal for fans in many cities, the Jays haven't been to the postseason since 1993. Which is two years before I started at my current workplace 20 years ago. At the time, the Jays went on to win their second World Series in a row, capping off a decade of strong contending teams. In 1994, the Jays were sitting at 55-60 on August 12 when the players went on strike and the season was ended. And in the years that followed (before this one), they never seriously contended for even a wild card spot. Blame it on ownership not spending the money, big acquisitions not panning out, whatever, the Jays became a mediocre small market team instead of the contending large market team they had been previously. Sure, I took the winning for granted between '85 and '93, but I can't believe it's been so long in the desert. It has been a depressing time, especially watching teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays dominate the AL East. But all that's in the past, as this year's team has roared to a 90-65 record as of this writing, the highest win total since '93. Not only are they close to clinching the division, getting the best record in the AL (thereby giving them home field advantage through the playoffs) is within their reach; they're currently tied with Kansas City.

This Jays team has renewed my interest and passion for baseball, which had waned in recent years. I'm as obsessed with it as I ever have been. My greatest sports moments have been the Jays' two World Series wins in '92 and '93, followed by the Patriots' four Super Bowl wins. The Maple Leafs have been a perennial disappointment my entire life, with occasional flourishes of hope mixed in. They're currently at the beginning of a rebuilding plan, so there are no championships on the immediate horizon. But at least I've finally got something to root for in October. No more wallowing in the past. I'm fully engaged in the present. Go Jays!

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