The first time I even remember being accused of “giving up” was by my second grade Pee-Wee football coach. It was the third quarter of the Regional finals, we were down by seven and the thought occurred to me that I might be bleeding internally. I mentioned my perceived condition to Tommy Smith, who had also been sitting on the bench for the entire game, and he recommended I share my health concerns with the coaching staff. After explaining my concerns and asking the coach for specifics related to the league’s liability coverage, I found myself at the receiving end of the “this team doesn’t give up” speech. The coach punctuated his point by expressing how “any player who somehow determined on their own volition that “giving up” was an option, probably wouldn’t make it past the second grade”. He went on to say that kids that “give up” have a higher probability that their adult wardrobe will include black knee-high socks and sandals, and I could pretty much just forget about sampling any of the snack that Mrs. Wilson had brought in that fancy new Tupperware container that “only rich people can afford”.
For some reason the coach’s words stuck with me. I don’t know if it was the passion of delivery, the succinct simplicity of the message or the combination of chewing tobacco and nacho cheese Doritos rocketing out from between his teeth. Regardless, from that day forward I vowed never again to be accused of “giving up”.
The early seventies provided me a number of opportunities to showcase my commitment to not “giving up”. It was the spring of ’72. Major League Baseball had joined at the hip with the National chain of 7-Eleven convenience stores to introduce an ingenious new marketing concept. The idea of every All-Star baseball player’s face printed on the front of a 49 ounce reusable Slurpee cup swept the youth baseball market like wildfire; every Little Leaguer had to have the whole set. Now, I do not in any way profess to be a marketing Guru of any stature, nor do I suggest that I possess the breadth of wisdom that professionals in those positions hold. But, looking back, it occurs to me that if you limit the number of desirable players’ faces printed, utilize a non-dishwasher safe type ink and serve a gazillion grams of sugar to a bunch of prepubescent baseball players, a buying frenzy might occur.
Coincidentally, Catfish Hunter and Johnny Bench were the most sought after Slurpee cups of that era. Kids on my Little League team would have sold their soul for one of those cups – let alone both.
When the rumors in the dugout spread that our local 7-Eleven had a new shipment that might include both Johnny and Catfish, I told my mother I was having a sleepover at Tommy Smith’s house. By the dim light of my flashlight, I pitched my Cap’n Crunch collapsible two-man tent (I had purchased with 250 cereal box tops) next to the garbage container that sat directly behind the 7-Eleven. Dawn came at 7:03 am. I had my first 49 ounces down by 7:15, and Johnny was safely stored in my backpack. I was midway thru Catfish when I figured it was time to get ready for school. I told the cashier to top it off with Cherry, grabbed six licorice whips and headed for home.
I placed Johnny and Catfish on my night stand shrine just as the first school bell sounded through my bedroom window. For some reason on that morning it felt like there was a new spring in my step. My legs felt lighter, and my lungs sucked in air as easy as a gazelle on the plains of the Serengeti. I bounded over parked cars, small trees and the occasional apartment complex.
Recess was a blur, and during library time Mrs. Thornton threatened to tie me to the card catalogue cabinet.
Returning home, I opened the door to the sound of my mother’s Maytag 1000 dishwasher. As alarm bells rang in my head, I pulled open the machine and gazed through the Clorox-laced steam at Johnny Bench’s remaining lower jaw. In panic-fueled disbelief, I reached for Catfish Hunter who now resembled a Cyclops in a Rastafarian beanie. Life as I knew it was ruined.
The level of discouragement at that moment cannot be adequately described. I imagine it was similar to the feelings Lewis and Clark must have felt when they realized the Northwest passage ended at what would one day be a Walmart parking lot in Wallace, Idaho. Oddly, I found solace in the words of my Pee-Wee football coach. I determined I would not “give up”, even if I had to drink all the Slurpee’s in the Pacific Northwest. I raised my fist and pledged to scour the corners of the earth for what was once mine and now was lost.
I eventually collected the whole set. My mother’s inconsideration combined with her incessant need to “fire up the Maytag” played havoc on the All-Stars, but that’s another story altogether.
This youthful commitment to not “give up” has served me well over the years. I can proudly say that I stayed true to bell-bottom pants well in to the 90’s. My loyalty to my Members Only jacket goes well beyond reproach and publically respectable fashion sense.
Professionally, this dogged sense of determination to not “give up” can be credited to a litany of managerial nuances that I have leaned on quite heavily over the years. I am absolutely committed to the overstatement of the obvious and will never “give up” on the benefits of habitually pointing out the inconsequential.
As a parent, I take pride in my children following in my footsteps. It tugs at my heart when I see my daughter not “give up” her seat on the Barcalounger when the garbage needs to be taken out. The tenacity displayed by my son as he sticks with the video game at the risk of minimizing homework time brings to mind terms like “chip off the old block” and something about “the apple not falling too far from a radio shack”.
And to think I learned this critical life skill from a Pee-Wee football coach…