Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Running With Uncle Chris

My Nikes I inherited when Uncle Chris passed away
have been on runs all over the world. No better way to
honor someone who enjoyed his jogs like he did. 
Many of you who read this blog knew my Uncle Chris. One of the five Kamide brothers who grew up in Carthage, N.Y., he served with the Army in the war in the middle east, worked as a school teacher and a school board member, spent years as a high school and collegiate basketball referee, and above all else, was a great father to my cousins, Chris, Gabbi and Alyssa.

Uncle Chris and I shared a number of similarities. Like each of my uncles on both sides of my family, we shared a passion for sports. He enjoyed watching Syracuse football and hoops, his Dolphins, grew up a baseball fan, and jumped on the lacrosse bandwagon when his kids advanced on to play at the high school and collegiate levels.

Everyone said we looked a lot alike, we both - like my cousin Nate - battled Crohn's Disease, and both of us enjoyed going for a recreational run to keep in shape and get our mind off the daily grind and stress we had in our lives.

When Uncle Chris passed away in April 2013, it hit our family pretty hard. He was only 48-years-old, with young children who had yet to hit the prime of their lives. He had so much to offer this world, and for nearly five decades, he had done so with a big smile on his face and an energy and passion for life that I always noticed whenever I was around him. Just a couple years earlier, he had run in a marathon in Las Vegas to fundraise for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, and I had helped organize a fundraiser here in Northern Virginia for his cause. 

A few of his personal belongings were passed to members of the family, and since he and I had the same shoe size, I was given a pair of essentially brand new Nike running shoes of his. This, I told myself, couldn't be a more perfect opportunity for me to honor my uncle. I have had the opportunity via baseball to do a lot of traveling, and in the 28 months since his passing, have taken those running shoes with me to all parts of the country and to Europe for runs. I've worn his shoes for jogs here in Virginia, in upstate New York, in New York City, in South Carolina, in Georgia, and in Europe in Hungary, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. 

I don't know the exact mileage, but it's well over 200 miles I've run in Uncle Chris' shoes. Every time I tie the shoes before heading out for my run, I think of him. And I think of my cousins, who are without their father. Something I could not comprehend. 

And then there is the irony of the shoes being Nike. My grandfather owned a shoe store in Carthage for over four decades, 'Faye's Boot Shop', and the only brand of sneakers he sold were Nike. So until his passing in 1996, that's all the Kamide family wore. Each summer, we knew we'd get a new pair of kicks for the school year, and each winter, a new pair of basketball sneakers. The fact that Uncle Chris, like many of us in the family, still swore by Nikes, was just another example of the tightness of the family, and the loyalty shown to Grandpa whenever it was time for a new pair of sneakers.

That loyalty exists whenever I look at these two pairs of sneakers I inherited from my Uncle Chris. There are days where I don't feel like going for a run. I've got a bunch on my plate. I'm hungover. I had a big breakfast, and don't feel like cramping up a mile into it. I didn't get much sleep, and the snooze button on my phone or alarm looked very appealing. I won't lie and tell you the thought of Uncle Chris and the shoes forces me to go on that run every time, I unfortunately don't have that type of will power. But he and the shoes are working at about a 75 percent clip right now, and I'm in pretty good shape. A big reason for that is there is a part of me that says get off your butt and go make your uncle proud.

I know you're up there resting in peace, Uncle Chris. We all miss you very much. And I'll keep running until these things fall apart. And keep thinking of you each time I lace them up. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Goulash and Baseball

We jumped straight from our flight, onto the bus, and over to the Prague
Castle, where our 42-person contingent toured the St. Vitus Cathedral.
Centuries-old culture, history and cuisine, chased with great-tasting (and ridiculously inexpensive) beer and maybe a couple scoops of Gelato. Toss in some (at times rugged) baseball, an ever-prompt tour guide, a muscle-bound bus driver, and our 42-member contingent of players, coaches and parents from Northern Virginia had their seven-day, five-game, four-country baseball trek through the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Thanks to the MVP International Athletics program, I had the opportunity earlier this month to travel to Europe for a third consecutive summer with a team from our area, this time a group of 13-15 year-olds and three high school head coaches from Northern Virginia; Madison’s Pudge Gjormand, South Lakes’ Morgan Spencer and Langley’s Kevin Healy.

These trips we take overseas are not as much about wins and losses on the baseball field as they are learning about how cultures were formed and have evolved, have succeeded or failed throughout the centuries, often times dating back to the Medieval Ages and even the Roman Empire. Since Pudge and Matt Foley first began organizing international trips some 7-8 years ago, players from our area have visited countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, the Dominican Republic, and the four Central European nations we toured this month. Next week, another team will head to Puerto Rico.

Those who have followed this blog know that I have caught the travel bug, a result of my being born on a U.S. Army base in Germany, a family vacation to Europe years ago, and an 18-month stint where I lived and coached overseas. Though my travels, I’ve gained an awesome appreciation for the cultures in Europe. I love trying the varying cuisines, whether it’s the great pasta and breads in Italy, the spicy dishes in Hungary, trying the differing versions of Goulash in Germany/Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, sampling the sangria in Spain, debating which country brews the best beer, and of course, delving into my favorite European dish, the Czech Republic’s Svickova (I know, I’m missing the accents over the letters!).

It’s one thing to study world history, it’s another to witness in person where that history took place. Every trip, I’ve found myself sounding very much like my mother when she took my brother, sister and I overseas years ago when I tell players to pay attention during the guided tours of of castles, cathedrals and museums. I get it, you’re in middle school or about to start high school, you’d probably rather be paintballing or pounding your buddy in Halo or Gears of War than staring at stain glass windows in a 500-year-old church. But I tell them how impressed their history teacher would be when they get back to school next month and tell them stories of what they saw, or better yet, should they hand in a paper on it for some extra credit to start off the semester (I know, slim to no chance any of them do that!).

And then there’s the baseball. We get to see an awesome variety of fields and facilities, the parents love the fact that they serve beer at the games (FCPS, there’s an easy fix to the budget problem!), and what an experience for our guys to face youth national teams. Seeing ‘AUSTRIA’ or ‘HUNGARY’ across your opponent’s chest has a bit more meaning in the grand scheme of one’s baseball career than ‘MCLEAN’ or ‘WESTFIELD’. Don’t get me wrong, I want to beat those guys as well, but competing against a team representing a country is pretty special. Then being able to swap caps or shirts after games with those players? That’s pretty cool.

I certainly appreciate the opportunity that has been presented to me with these trips. My hope is that the players have as well, and that the parents have re-hydrated after all those half-liters of Kozel, Pilsner Urquell, Soproni and whatever else happened to be on tap at the clubhouses. That Atto, our tour guide, returns to Germany to a successful acting career. And that Miro, our Ivan Drago-lookalike at the bus’ helm, doesn’t body slam the next Fiat that cuts him off.

Until next time, Europe.