One Pack. No Turning Back.

Number of miles driven today: 6

Total miles driven on road trip: 5,019

Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Starbucks bounces back, edging DD. 

Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 19-1-1

Dunkin' Donuts' record: 1-19-1

Cheapest gas I saw today: $ 2.71

Number of states visited overall: 11

Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 8 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia)

Number of blue states visited overall: 3 (California, New Mexico, Florida)

Exhibit where Don Carman and I spent the most time today at the zoo: The giraffes

Don Carman's favorite animal at the zoo: The kudu, given its similarity to his nickname, "Kumu"

Expectations are dangerous. 

I tell this to my biology students back at Laney College, and they initially seem confused. "Aren't high expectations a good thing?" they ask. 

I try to explain what I consider the difference between setting goals (a healthy thing) and expectations (a bit dangerous). Goals give you something to strive for; expectations make your future happiness contingent on a particular outcome, which you only have limited control over.

With this in mind, my expectations for meeting Don Carman, card #7 in the wax pack and my favorite player throughout childhood, were unhealthily and unreasonably stratospheric. 

I was a weird kid. I spent hours on the floor of my room studying nautical charts and compiling lists of all the islands' names, making up my own where none were provided. I wrote to the admissions committees of colleges whose names started with the letter F (my favorite letter, inexplicably; think Fresno State, Fordham, Furman, etc.) on a manual typewriter asking for copies of their course catalog. And I spent hours alone in the front yard with a Wiffle bat and ball, emulating Philadelphia Phillies players (my favorite team since the age of 4 because I thought it was spelled with lots of F's). Especially Don Carman.

I don't know why I liked Carman. He was far from the Phillies' best player. But he was my guy.

In 1989, at the age of 8, I found his birthday on the back of his baseball card and hatched what I considered to be a brilliant, foolproof plan to get his autograph. 

I went down to the local CVS and bought him a Hallmark birthday card, then found his mailing address and plotted for weeks to mail the card so that it would arrive right on his birthday (it's August 14). The card pictured a sailboat with a message that read "Happy Birthday, with wishes for smooth sailing all year long." I crossed out the word "sailing" and replaced it with "pitching," then sat back to admire my handiwork. 

I mailed it off, along with one of his baseball cards to sign, and then watched the mailbox for several weeks. When I heard the sputter of the mail truck engine each day around 1 pm, I rushed out to greet Joe, a gum-snapping, bearded man with a wild ponytail and sunglasses who I didn't believe existed outside of the perch of his driver's seat.

I never got a response. I agonized over what had gone wrong (looking back, there are symptoms of my OCD littered all over my childhood), and concluded that I probably had forgotten to include a self-addressed stamped envelope, an absolute necessity in the autograph-through-the-mail game.

But my interest in Carman did not waver. In 1992 when he was pitching for the Texas Rangers' farm system, he got a call up to the major leagues right when my dad was leaving on a trip to Texas to see a game. I stuffed his pockets with Don Carman cards in case he saw him. I had no interest in the Rangers' ace, Nolan Ryan.

In 1994, Carman was attempting a comeback with my beloved Phillies in spring training. Our family took a vacation to Clearwater, where the Phillies trained, and I asked my dad if we could try and find Carman on the practice fields. We got lucky, catching him as he was in between drills. I got his autograph, asked him a couple questions, and my dad snapped a picture (see above). I was complete.

Today, twenty-one years later, Carman and I had our reunion. I paced in the gift shop of the Naples Zoo, waiting for him to arrive and more nervous than I'd been to meet any of the other players in the pack. 

I instantly recognized his tall, lanky frame when he walked in.

"You must be Brad," he said, taking my outstretched hand with an almost bashful grin. His skin had a reddish hue from years spent in the Florida sun, and his peninsular hairline had remarkably not retreated in the past two decades, although there was a lot more gray. 

Carman's head sat slightly forward on his shoulders, his body still strong and wiry, the result of years of martial arts and conditioning training under Gus Hoefling, who was also Steve Carlton's training guru. While his default expression was dry and stoic, his searching blue eyes hinted at the complexity that lay below. 

Carman, you see, is always observing. It's what he did as a child in rural Oklahoma, painfully shy, called stupid by classmates and teachers alike. He quickly was branded as "different," "weird," "special." He heard the taunts and felt the pain they caused, but had a preternatural ability to step outside himself, to detach from the moment to recognize something as it was happening as a neutral observer, even if he was the object of the scorn. He remembers being yelled at and wondering to himself, without self-pity, "how could an adult be that cruel?"

​It is a skill and potential that would not go fulfilled until Don Carman found his true calling in life: sports psychologist.

He works for sports agent Scott Boras, an itinerant sounding board for some of the game's biggest stars.

Walking outside, we grabbed some food from the cafe and settled in at a table near one of the show stages. Over the next few hours, we saw giraffes, coyotes, and anteaters. We discussed theories of evolution, Mike Schmidt, and parenthood. I listened. Carman listened. 

And afterwards, sitting in the Naples Zoo parking lot and putting away my notebook, one of Carman's comments rang in my ears, something he mentioned in discussing how how he handled the transition at the end of his career.

"In life, we don't get to write the script. We only get to respond."

You can have goals, but don't attach to expectations. You can only control so much.

For older blog entries, click here.

Don Carman and me, Today

Don Carman and me, 1994

Zoo With Don

Day 21: Tampa, FL to Naples, FL, 7.9.15