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Tomas does a little dance in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue.

I couldn’t dream up some of the people that I come across.  Today, I ran across Thomas Jefferson, one of the four Washington Nationals’ mascots!  It was ironic, because the day before I had reached out to the National’s organization to ask for a donation item for the year-end celebration raffle.  By the way, they came through on that and generously donated an autographed baseball by outfield slugger Josh Willingham.  

Jefferson, whose jersey bears the name “Tomas”, wears the number three which corresponds to him being the third president of the United States.  I am not sure why he doesn’t have an “h” in the spelling of his name.  Anyway, he was in front of the Chipotle in Dupont handing out some flyers about the Nationals’ holiday promotion where you buy three games for about the price of two games, including tickets to opening day, and get a free Nationals ornament – pretty decent package.  I got to about ten games this past season and even gave my $10 away at about six or seven of them.  I already have 2011 opening day on my calendar; I haven’t missed it in the past four years.

Communication was limited to head nods and hand gestures as Tomas was unable to speak.  He was pretty good at it too.  If you need a charades partner, he’s your man.  I asked him what he was going to do with the money and he rubbed his belly.  “Food,” I asked and he rocked his enormous head back and forth.  Then he made a gesture like he was freezing cold.  Or maybe he was going to use it to buy some clothes.  Well, to be fair he was probably freezing cold.  He was wearing shorts and it was about 30 degrees.  Note to Nationals administration: Please get this guy some warmer clothes.

For those of you who have been to a game know that the four presidents whose images appear on Mount Rushmore (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt) have a race every home game from center field to the

Me and Tomas near Dupont Circle.

Nationals dugout.  Tomas is in second place overall since the inception of the race with 97 wins.  Despite having the second best record, he has never finished any single season in first place.  But then again, he’s doing better than poor Teddy who has never won a race.  Let Teddy Win!

We said goodbye and Tomas gave me a high-five.  I hoped that he would come to my year-end celebration, but to my knowledge he was not there.  Then again, without his costume I probably wouldn’t have recognized him!

Let’s go Nats!

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U.S. Cellular Field

I recently had to travel to Chicago for some work related meetings.  I got some emails this morning from readers who read my post that today’s blog post was from Chicago and they thought Oprah had me on her show.  Nope, not the case.  I was there for some work related meetings.  My original plan was to arrive Sunday evening and return home Tuesday late afternoon.  You know how ticket prices can be and it turned out to be a lot cheaper to fly in Sunday morning.  Since I had all day to spend there I decided to find something to do.  As you might be able to tell from some of my posts I am a bit of a baseball fan and love seeing a game at the ball park.  I checked to see if either the Cubs or the White Sox where in town and sure enough the White Sox were playing their last game of the season.   

The White Sox would go on to beat Cleveland 6-3. (photo: Reed)

I got into O’Hare, took the subway downtown, dropped my luggage off at the hotel and headed over to U.S. Cellular Field.  I got there and followed the crowd over to the stadium.  A scalper approached me with some tickets for $40.  I told him that I only wanted to spend like $10 on tickets and he explained that the tickets he was selling were lower level good seats between third base and left field and he couldn’t sell them for that.  In the end he sold me the ticket for $15.  I spent another $5 on a White Sox cap (I buy a hat at every stadium I visit, I have 10 different ones now) and headed inside. 

The ball park is beautiful.  It was built in 1991 to replace the legendary Comiskey Park which dated back to 1910.  Comiskey was the oldest baseball park in use up until 1991; a title now owned by the Red Sox’s Fenway Park which I have also visited. 

Dan has been a White Sox fan for as long as he can remember. (photo: Reed)

I grabbed a bratwurst and a beer and went to find my seat.  Although decent, I was more impressed with the seat location and the stadium than the brat.  As I sat down the guy next to me asked if I had bought my ticket from a scalper outside.  I told him I had and we had fun comparing notes from our negotiating experience.  I think Dan paid $20 or $25, I can’t remember.  Two other guys showed up later who had paid $40 for the last two remaining tickets the guy was selling.

Dan and I posed for a photo on top of the White Sox dugout after the game.

Dan was very sociable at the park.  He’s the kind of guy that by the end of the game knows the people in front of him, in back of him and on both sides…and maybe even a vendor or an usher.  He shared a lot of information with me about the White Sox and the stadium.  It was nice to have my own personal guide!

I offered Dan my $10 and he accepted it.  This was the farthest west in the US that I have given away my $10 so far.  Dan works on the trading floor at the Chicago Exchange.  He is a big White Sox fan and comes to about 25-30 games a year.  He says he hasn’t been to a Cubs game since the Reagan administration.  “This here is for real baseball fans,” he says gazing around the stadium, “and the 2005 season was amazing!”  I noticed he was wearing a 2005 White Sox World Champion hat.  He missed most of the series though due to a trip down to the Caribbean island of Saba.  He also recalls the tie-breaker game in 2008 (also called the “Black Out” game on September 30th between the White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.)  “I was sitting high up over there behind home plate,” he says cocking his neck around and pointing to the top of the upper deck.  “This place went crazy when Jim Thome hit a homer in the 9th inning to win the game!”  It was Thome’s 541st home run and if you want to get an idea of how crazy things were at the ball park that evening, check out this link.  You can see how crowded it was and they show the home run and crowd reaction.  Simply beautiful.

Final scoreboard message (Photo: Reed)

I went to grab another beer and offered to get Dan one.  He told me that he didn’t drink.  “I stopped drinking on December 24, 1998 – It’ll be 12 years this December.”  I congratulated him on his sobriety and told him a little bit about some of the other people I had met through my year-long journey who are now sober (Bob and Michelle).  Dan continues to go to AA meetings and said that he was going to donate his $10 to his meeting group so that they can buy coffee, etc. for the meetings.

I asked him about family.  He is single now although he does have children he doesn’t have a relationship with them.  “That’s all part of why I went to AA,” he said.  Although he didn’t think there was a chance to rebuild that relationship I hope that some day he is able to be involved in their lives in some capacity.  

Photo: Reed

After the game Dan and I went down near the dugout to see if any players were coming out.  I took some more photos down there and then we decided to leave.  We walked back all the way to the subway together.  We were both going the same direction, however I was getting off before him.  He was a really nice guy and I hope to stay in touch with him.  We traded emails and said our goodbyes.  He told me to go to Al’s Beef on Taylor Street for the best sandwich in town or if I wanted pizza to check out Malnati’s.  I unfortunately didn’t make it to either one.  Next time.

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On the last day of the Nationals season, I decided to buy some cheap tickets and catch the final nine innings before the team hibernated for the winter.  Although the Nats lost 7-1 to the Phillies, there was something magical about the game.  Watching dads hold the tiny hands of their children as they took one last look at the field until next spring.  Teary-eyed fans hugging stadium staff as they left.  It reminded me of a quote by legendary baseball slugger Rogers Hornsby who once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Martha has been an usher for the Nats for three seasons. (photo: Reed)

Martha, a lower level usher, was no exception.  Fan after fan said goodbye and wished her well until they met again the following season.  I decided she should be my $10 recipient of the day!

This is Martha’s third year ushering for the Nats.  In fact it is a family affair.  Her husband and son also work at the stadium.  In an email that she sent me later Martha told me, “My son is a special education graduate, and loves his job there.  The Nationals are by far the best employer he has ever had.”  Wow, that says a lot about the Nationals organization.  Bravo to them!

It was a bit of a challenge to speak with Martha because there were so many fans who wanted to say goodbye.  On top of that, Martha was coordinating a picnic for stadium staff and she was supposed to make some final plans with other colleagues…but that didn’t happen she later told me in her email.  My $10 came in handy though as she put it toward the food that she was preparing for the picnic.  “You’re providing the ingredients to make a multitude of my famous brownies,” she wrote.

I honestly think I was the last person in the stadium. They'd turned all the lights off and there was not a soul in sight. I thought about doing a lap around the bases, but I just found an open exit and got out before I got locked in there!

Before she had to run, she did mention that her family was going through some uncertain times.  Her husband is transitioning between a steady paycheck as a teacher to a commission based arrangement providing financial services and planning for special needs families.  Special needs families have unique financial challenges that if not thought out properly can create tremendous financial burdens and stress on the family.  I applaud his courage to make this transition and help other families plan for the future.

Martha had to run…but as I mentioned earlier, she did send me a very kind email.  She mentioned that in addition to her husband and son, there was a woman who carpooled with them to and from the stadium.  She shared this at the end of her email.  “Our cohort in the carpool immediately said she had heard of you, read an article about your “Year of Giving”, now it’s my turn.”

I hope to see Martha and her family at my year-end celebration and then again at the Nats home opener on March 31st against the Braves!  Let’s go Nats!

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Today is 10-10-10!  Hopefully you will join me and Howard Wu in giving away $10 today.  Howard came up with this idea and created a Facebook page for people to share their stories.

The fact that today is a special date, 10-10-10, seems very appropriate for today’s recipient.  You will see why later, but Joey has some absolutely brilliant abilities when it comes to dates.

Joey (left) and his brother Rick before entering Nationals Park (photo: Reed)

I was headed to the National’s baseball game and got a ride over from my friend and former colleague Rick.  He was joined by his brother Joey, who was visiting Rick here in the DC area.

I soon learn that Joey is a remarkable man.  The 52-year-old from New Hampshire is autistic.  His parents were told to institutionalize Joey, but they never did.  He has lived with his parents, who are now in their 70s, all his life.

Despite Joey’s disability he lives a full life.  He is a tremendous help to his parents around the house.  Rick tells me that he keeps his room and himself meticulously clean, and makes his own breakfast and lunch.

Joey told me that I was born on a Tuesday, he was right too! (photo: Reed)

He is a very gentle man.  He keeps to himself and doesn’t say much.  In fact, he didn’t speak at all until he was about nine.  When he does it is usually to answer a question.  And he is very decisive in his answer.  I often find myself trying to recall things and taking a few seconds or minutes to determine whether I know the answer or not.  Not Joey.    He either knows the answer or he doesn’t, there isn’t much in between.  

For more than twenty years, the Easter Seals have provided a tremendous amount of care for Joey.  During the week they provide transportation for him to and from different locations where he works.  Usually he sets up tables at local restaurants and has also worked at the library alphabetizing periodicals.  When his day is done, he returns to the comfort of his parent’s loving home.

 Joey has some incredible abilities.  Like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, he has savantism.  When I got in the car Joey quickly asked me my name.  I told him and he asked me to repeat my last name for him.  I got the feeling that this information was being stored away for future use.  He then asked, “When were you born?”  I told him that my birth date was January 22, 1974.  He took a few seconds and then said, “Tuesday.”  Rick told me that he knows the day of the week for every date. WOW!  I had no idea if he was right or not, but after checking this when I got home, I discovered he was right!  He also told me that my father, who turns 70 this Friday, was born on a Tuesday.  He was right again.  Rick tells me that if he ever meets me again he will surely remember my name and birth date.

Me at the game (photo: Kimon Kanelakis)

Joey wasn’t done yet.  Nope, not by a long shot.  He also has a knack for telling you the song name and artist for almost any song from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.  Rick had on an oldies station and every song that came on Joey would tell us the name of the song and the artist.  “I Saw Linda Yesterday by Dickey Lee,” he says.  A few minutes later he enlightened us with, “Traces by the Classics IV.”  I’ve never heard of either of the artists much less would I have known who they were by listening to them.  And I would have never known if he was right or not either but Rick’s radio will display that information if you press some buttons.  We repeated this exercise about a half-dozen times on the way to the game and he was spot on.

Joey really likes to swim.  Rick told me that he had gone swimming almost every day while he was in DC.  Unfortunately, his time in DC was coming to an end.  After the game Rick and Joey were driving north to meet their parents half way between New Hampshire and DC.  Joey was going back home. 

I caught a photo of brothers Joey and Rick before the left to get Joey's gelato. (photo: Reed)

I wish each and every one of you could have met him.  Joey is pretty amazing.  I almost forgot to tell you what he did with his $10.  On their way out of the stadium he bought some gelato.  I believe it was chocolate…he apparently eats chocolate every day.  He still has the other $4 carefully tucked away in a box where he keeps his spending money.  I’ll let you know if I hear what happens to the other $4.

By the way, Joey was born 52 years to the day before I started the Year of Giving: December 15th, 1957 – it was a Sunday.

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On Day 276 I had some company with me as I searched for a recipient.  A news crew from Spain’s television network CUATRO were following me around for a story they were doing on my Year of Giving.  We met at Illy Café and chatted for a short while before heading to a nearby park where I tried to give my $10 to a man sitting in the park.  He refused.

We then started heading north on 21st Street I think.  It had been drizzling all day but the rain started to pick up a little bit and we sought shelter under an awning that extended over the sidewalk for a few minutes.  I then spotted a young guy walking two dogs across the street and I thought I would approach him.

I ran over to Jake with the news crew chasing after me.

Jake was helping his girlfriend out by walking her dogs. They were cute dogs. I remember the dog on the right is named Georgia. (photo: Reed)

Jake is a local to the Greater DC area.  He grew up in Alexandria, VA and graduated from T.C. Williams High School.  Now, 29, Jake is studying psychology at George Washington University.

On this specific day he was taking his girlfriend’s dogs for a walk.  He said that he would probably use the $10 to sponsor a day of dog walking for her some day.  “Her dog walker charges $10 for a walk, so this will help her out for at least one day,” he told me.

Jake is 29 so he is not your traditional undergraduate college student.  I asked what he had chosen to do after graduating high school and his answer surprised me.  “Well, I came to GW and studied for a couple years but then I was drafted by the San Francisco Giants to play baseball in the 2002 draft.”  Wow…I guess I should tell you that I used to dream of playing professional baseball for the New York Mets so I was pretty excited to meet a professional baseball player.  No, I didn’t grow up dreaming about being laid off my job and giving $10 away…that just sort of happened.

Jake making a double play look easy. (photo: Matt Thornton)

He played for nine years in the minor league organization of the Giants.  He spent most that time playing 2nd base and shortstop for their AA and AAA farm teams.  “It was a great experience,” he shared with me.  “You learn a lot.  You are consistently setting a goal to get better, always working to get to where it is you want to go.”  He went on to say that the fact that he was playing for half the year and then off for the other half made it really hard to stay focused on those goals. 

Jake talking to the Spanish news reporter. (photo: Reed)

“People would always tell me that my baseball career was going to help me so much in my professional life after baseball,” Jake said.  “I’m sure it will…using what I learned about setting goals, the drive that I have.”  I have no doubt.  Professional sports are highly competitive and only the best like Jake can survive for extended periods of time.  When I used to hire sales people I loved candidates who were runners or disciplined in some athletic area.  They understand commitment and know that you will have to go through considerable pain sometimes to achieve their goal.  They don’t quit.

I did some searching on Jake and found this interesting clip.  Apparently it is not live footage from a game rather a commercial that was taped for Gatorade.  The announcer lists the Fresno left fielder as Jake and although he didn’t play outfield much, I have a feeling it is him since he played for Fresno.  I tried to confirm this with him but I must have written his email down incorrectly.  If you know Jake, please put me in touch with him.  Anyway, have a look, it’s a cool clip.

By the way, you may remember that I happened to give $10 to another professional baseball player in May, Anthony on Day 158.  It’s either a small world or I got to too many baseball games.

We said goodbye and Jake continued on his way with the dogs. (photo: Reed)

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Manizales has been great…despite the almost constant drizzle and heavy fog.  This morning I visited one of the schools that the group I am consulting for is working with.  The kids were amazing.  It was sad, when I left they all gave me a massive group hug.  I am actually going to see them tomorrow too…but they don’t know that!  Check out this video of us working with some of the children who are in a bilingual choir in one of Manizales public schools.

I am still writing up blog entries from last week! 

Photo: Reed

So I told you in the previous blog posting about my trips to see the Mets vs. Nationals games last week.  After the game I was sifting through the crowds a the subway station platform trying to position myself so that I would make the next train.  I walked by Anthony who was leaning against a short wall that overlooked the lower level of the station where another train line runs.  As I walked by he leaned his head back as if to rest it against the wall, but there was not wall behind his head so his head went back further than he expected and his sunglasses fell from their resting position on top of his baseball hat and fell 20 feet onto the tracks below. 

“Did you just lose something,” I asked him as I saw him quickly look over the side of the wall.  Shaking his head back and forth he smiled and said, “Yeah…my sunglasses.”  We both peered over the wall to see if we could see them but they were gone.

“They were cheap.  I paid like $7 for them.”  He shrugged it off and I continued my way toward the other end of the station.

I wasn’t ten feet away when I realized he should be my $10 recipient for the day!  I rushed back to see if he was still there.  He was.

Anthony is a 40-year-old Caddie Master at a prestigious local country club.  He was born and raised in Maryland.  After a few minutes I realized that he was a Met’s fan as well!  Let’s go Mets!  We reminisced a little bit about the days of the 1986 Mets.  “People even used to say that I looked like Dr. K when I was younger,” he said referring to Dwight Gooden, the former star pitcher for New York.

It turns out that Anthony he himself is a former professional baseball player with the Texas Rangers’ farm team.  He spent two years with them from 1992-1994.  He also played on the USA national team and won a bronze medal in 1996.

Below there is a clip of us talking about Anthony’s attitude toward life and his experience with the Texas Rangers.  You might catch a glimpse of his father directly behind Anthony if you look close.  They had went to the game together.  I still like to go to games with my dad.  In fact, he and I went to see a game the last year that Shea Stadium was being used and then the first year of their new stadium, Citi Field.

Anthony is a really nice guy.  I love that I met him and it is sad to think that if I had not been doing this project, I might not have stopped and spoken with him.  With every person I meet through the Year of Giving, my life becomes much richer.  An interesting irony given the negative cash flow of my current situation.

Oh, I almost forgot.  You guessed it.  Anthony is going to buy some new sun glasses with the $10 I gave him.

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View nearby where I am staying in Manizales, Colombia (Photo: Reed)

I have arrived safely here in Manizales, Colombia.  I am a little behind with my posting but that is somewhat acceptable if you consider what my internet set-up might be in such a beautiful location like this.

By the way, I have been thinking that it would be a good idea to document the giving experiences from Colombia in both Spanish and English.  For one reason, if a recipient doesn’t read English very well they won’t be able to read their own blog posting which just seems wrong.  Given my schedule, it would be great to have a native speaker “guest translate” for each of the days that I am here.  If you are interested, let me know.

Last week the New York Mets baseball team was in town to take on the Washington Nationals.  I grew up a huge Mets fan.  Living in Central PA you would think that I would be a Philadelphia Phillies or Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  The only explanation that I can give is that I started to follow them because we got WWOR Channel 9 from Secaucus, NJ which carried almost all of the Mets games at the time.  It certainly wasn’t because of the team’s record back then.  I started following them in the early 1980s when they were not a pretty sight.  They got better though and went on to win the 1986 World Series.  My father took me to game 5 of the National League play-offs that year against the Houston Astros.  It’s one of my fondest childhood memories.

Anyway, I made it to two Mets games last week.  My friend Chris and I were leaving the game and getting on the Metro when I saw a young guy playing the violin.  I offered him the $10 but he declined when he learned that I would write about the encounter on the blog.

I scanned the scene for another recipient.  It was almost as if a river current was carrying everyone to the Metro.  In the middle of this swift moving mob was a woman holding her own against the current while she handed out the Express newspaper; a free paper published by the Washington Post that is mostly distributed to commuters.  I have given several times to the vendors of Street Sense, but I have never given to anyone from the Express organization.  So I did.

Sharon hands a Metro rider the Express (Photo: Reed)

Sharon was busy trying to capture the attention of the mostly disinterested passersby.  She has handed out the Express for three years she tells me.  “On a good day I hand out about 1,500 papers.”  I remember responding to her with something like, “Wow, you sell a lot of papers!”  I knew the paper was free but I just misspoke.  She quipped back, “Honey, if I was selling these things I’d be a millionaire by now!”

She went on to tell me that “the people are the best part of the job!”  Although that evening was almost perfect, Sharon says that she dreads the hottest and coldest days of the year.  “That’s the worst part about this job: the weather.”

Originally from West Virginia, the 49-year-old now calls Washington, DC her home.  She certainly makes a lot of us feel at home here when she give’s us our paper and wishes us a nice day.  She told me that she was going to use the $10 to help pay for her transportation to and from work.  I didn’t want to keep her from her job much more so I thanked her (and she thanked me right back) and said “goodnight.”

I am looking forward to writing more about Manizales this week.  It’s a beautiful tranquil space.  This should be a very busy and exciting 10 days!

Check out this short clip of Sharon in action!

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