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Cup of Coffee: Veteran's Day Guest Post Extra
A special guest post from reader Frank Greenagel
As you may know — and definitely would know if I mentioned it more often — I sell Cup of Coffee coffee mugs here. The deal: if you buy one, and send me a photo, you can write a guest post about anything you want. We’ve had several of these posts, but none for a while, likely because I haven’t mentioned it in a while. But the offer is always open.
Today’s guest post is coming to you in a separate edition of the newsletter. Partially because it’s quite long and would take up all the room in a usual newsletter, but also because today is Veteran’s Day and our guest poster, Frank Greenagel, asked if I could run it today and, dang it, if you guys ask me to do something, I’ll probably do it.
Frank warns us at the beginning, but I’ll warn you an extra time: there is extensive talk about suicide in this post. It is, however, constructive talk from an actual therapist. Still, thought you should know.
Take it away, Frank!
Hi Craig. And hello to my fellow baseball enthusiasts.
In this guest column, I start out by listing all the baseball writers that I pay to read (or would be willing to pay to read). There is a bit about how I converted from the Yankees religion to the Dodgers religion in my mid 30s before I describe the tragedy of how I horrifically missed two perfect games, two no-hitters, and watched another no-hitter slip away at the last possible moment. You learn how I went from a 19 year old college dropout who abused a variety of substances to become a professor and therapist in one quick paragraph (that is only provided here for context).
A quick disclaimer: There are some links to articles I wrote on suicide after one of my closest friends died and two pieces on grief and how to process it. And we wrap up with a speech about suicide from a play I wrote at the start of the pandemic about my Army deployment in 2019. For my birthday this year, my girlfriend got me one of Craig’s mugs, so I’m going to get her money’s worth. But if you read only one part of my guest spot, please read the piece last bit on suicide. Especially if you lost someone that way.
Who I Pay to Read
I started reading Rob Neyer for free on ESPN.com in the mid-90s. He introduced me to Baseball Prospectus. And ever since, I’ve been paying to read Joe Sheehan, Jay Jaffe, and Steven Goldman (you would not believe all the sites I’ve hunted down just to read his musings and observations). Goldman led me to Craig, who reminds me of Dennis from The Holy Grail: “We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune!”
One final note before we move on: I’d pay a lot to read whatever Gary Huckabay wrote about if he ever decided to start writing again.
From the Yankees to the Dodgers
I was late to baseball. I started watching during the ’86 World Series. I was 10. All the little bastards in my middle school were Met fans, so I picked the Yankees. I’m a contrarian, so if I was 10 years older or 10 years younger, I would have picked the Mets because all the little bastards in my school in ’76 or ’96 would have been Yankee fans. After I got sober and came home from the Army in the summer of 1996, I went to a ton of games. I had a 30 game plan in ’98 and took my Dad to Game 1 of the World Series that fall. I lived and died with the goings on in the Bronx. And then because of a cable dispute, I couldn’t watch any games on TV in 2002.
I taught English in Tokyo in 2003. When I came home, the Yankees had A-Rod and Kevin Brown on the team and my fervor for the pinstripes began to fade. I became a drug counselor and ended up going to school full time while working full time and also working two part time jobs. That schedule lasted about 10 years, so the only games I could catch were ones that started after 10. Between John Thorn’s celebration of Jackie Robinson in Ken Burns Baseball documentary and Vin Scully, I slowly left the Yankees and quickly fell in love with the Dodgers. One friend told me, “there can be a baseball divorce, but there is no fucking remarriage.” I did it anyway. I still look back fondly on Rivera and Pettite and Williams without having any feelings at all for Judge or Stanton or the rest of the behemoths over there. For my first near decade or so as a Dodger fan, I suffered through brutal playoff loss after excruciating playoff loss. It was like the late 40s and early 50s and, like a kid, I rationalized that I had to earn my way to Dodger fandom through medieval level suffering. And salvation was finally delivered by Urías, Kershaw, Seager, Turner, Betts and the rest.
It’s been an easy baseball life, and if any of you are reading this and thinking “fuck that guy,” I completely understand.
I was driving to Yankee Stadium on May 17, 1998 when I heard on the radio that it was Beanie Baby day. I had just finished my first year at Rutgers and I was working six days a week that summer for the NJ Division of Fish and Game. I also was serving in the NJ Army National Guard, so I had almost no time for myself. The idea of going to a game by myself and listening to 30,000 screaming kids on fucking Beanie Baby day was too much, so I turned around and watched the game from home. David Wells threw a perfect game. It was the only time in my life where I was actually headed toward a baseball game and turned around.
It gets better.
My friend Geoff’s dad owned a restaurant. People would give him tickets. He never went to games because he always worked. And when he didn’t work, he was with his family. Some guy gave him two Yankee tickets and he gave them to Geoff. Geoff ran track at BC but didn’t give a shit about baseball, so he gave me the tickets. They were for July 18, 1999. I had two weeks of annual training at Ft. Dix then, so I gave them to this new guy in AA named Mike who was a Yankee fan.
July 18th was a Sunday. My sergeant let us go in the morning because we had done “such a good fucking job” and told us we had to be at formation at 0630 on Monday. I thought about calling Mike to see if he had found another person to go with, but then I figured that I would be better off just going back to my apartment. Shower. Eat. Rest. Watch the game. Sleep in a real bed.
Cone threw a perfect game.
But wait, there is more.
I took a job at Rutgers in 2009 working in the counseling center and running the recovery houses in New Brunswick and Newark. In late September of 2012, I was heading out to Pittsburgh to catch two or three games against the Reds. One of my students had a mental health crisis that was brought on by not taking her medication for a few days, staying up all night, and skipping classes. She assessed her life on the morning of September 28th and found it lacking. I was called. She was treated and stabilized and I wasn’t able to leave for Pittsburgh until 4 pm and it is a six hour drive. So I listened to the radio as Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter. I made it to the Saturday game, which wasn’t a no hitter.
There is more. I shit you not.
Near the very end of my marriage, my now ex-wife and I traveled to Miami in late September of 2013 to see the Marlins new park. On Saturday, September 28th, (the one year anniversary of my missed Homer Baily no-no), I watched the 60-win Marlins beat the 93-win Tigers 2-1 in a boring game. The best highlight was when I walked behind a Tigers fan with a Cabrera shirt on – he had stapled three Burger King paper crowns together to celebrate Miguel’s impending triple crown. Pretty cool. We had plans to go to the game on Sunday but that morning, my then wife/now ex-wife asked me if we could go paddle boarding instead. I’m not agreeable to such things but I decided to be agreeable because my marriage was ending and, of fucking course, Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter that was only decided in the bottom of the ninth on a walk-off wild pitch.
My buddy Ryan and I traveled to Atlanta in late July of 2018 to catch the last two games of the Dodgers-Braves series at Craig’s favorite new baseball stadium. I wore a General Sherman t-shirt and a Dodger hat to the Saturday night game – alas, no fans took the bait. Ryan is 15 years younger than me so he can do all kinds of fancy shit with his phone, like find tickets behind the Dodgers dugout a few minutes before first pitch for pennies on the dollar. Sean Newcomb came out dealing for the Braves and I turned to Ryan and said, “He has no-hit stuff.” Ryan, knowing the director’s cut of the aforementioned no-hitter tragedies, told me to settle down because there were only three outs. After the fourth inning he told me that he would start believing in the fifth. After the sixth inning, Ryan was as excited as I was. The Dodger fans around me criticized me for rooting for a no-hitter against the Dodgers, and I responded by asking them if any of them had been to over 500 games AND missed four no-hitters for stupefying reasons. By the top of the ninth, pretty much everyone in the stadium except for a couple of miserable pricks were urging Newcomb to finish off the Dodgers. One out. Two outs. One strike. My heart was beating super fast. Two strikes. I started physically shaking. I’m a rock; I never shake. And I was shaking.
And then Chris Taylor hit a sharp single just past third base and I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and kicked in the nuts.
My Journey in One Long, Run-On Paragraph
I was arrested for stealing alcohol from a neighbor’s basement when I was 15. I got arrested again for throwing parties a couple of years later. My grandmother died when I was 19 and I drank and drugged for the next six months, which is the absolute worst way to handle grief. I got sober on December 17th, 1995 and went to rehab. I came home and went to AA and then signed an 8-year contract with the US Army National Guard. I went to Rutgers. Made great friends. Traveled the US collecting baseball stadiums. Majored in history and English. I was going to be a Shakespeare professor and spend the rest of my life talking to young people about love and death and politics and war. But then one of my best friends overdosed in 2002. I started working in a drug treatment center in Secaucus, NJ. My boss and his boss and that guy’s boss were all kinds of fucked up, so I went to grad school so I could (a) not have assholes above me and (b) help people more. I worked and worked and my career eventually took off – not in the sense that I’m a smashing financial success (I do well), but that I’ve really been able to help a lot of people. Anyway, I took a job at Rutgers running a recovery program. I got hired to teach in the school of social work, so now I teach young people about love and death and politics and war. A Marine ended up in my office and he told a story about his four deployments and how he was injured and had PTSD. And how the military doctors gave him Xanax and Oxycotin and he became addicted and then they threw him out of the Marines and he almost died. But he got clean and ended up at Rutgers. And I was so pissed that I rejoined the Army at age 38 to stop shit like that from happening again. And a few years later one of my closest friends completed suicide. And then I was deployed to Poland in 2019 as the lone therapist for 800 US soldiers. And all of that personal and professional experience was used to help treat a bunch of guys who had been through a bunch of shit. And I wrote a play about it. Which I’m about to get to in a minute.
I’ve never taken money from an insurance company for my services
I’ve never taken money from a pharmaceutical company
…but I believe that medications make sense in many cases, just not in every case at the start
I’m not looking for any clients or donations or money or anything from Craig or any of you
…except that I’d like you to consider buying and reading my play and getting the word out
I’ve made really good enemies. I had a public spat with Governor Christie about drug policy, fought with some bad for-profit treatment programs, and at least one terrible Army officer took exception to my book and tried to launch a big, farcical investigation about it. Number six isn’t really a disclaimer, but I’m hoping that you are swayed to be on my side.
Some Links to Free Articles about Death and Suicide and the Best Thing You Can Do to Heal
This one has some basic dos and don’ts for anyone who has lost someone.
This third article on suicide discusses the two lines that survivors repeat in our sessions.
The best thing you can do after someone dies is to write about them. For someone like Craig or myself, it’s easy. For most people though, writing is hard. And writing about someone who died can feel like an awful chore.
Act III, Scene I Suicide from A Failure of Indoctrination
(Lights on. The Behavioral Health Officer (BHO) is standing on an elevated platform upstage. He is facing the audience. Between him and the audience are a dozen or more soldiers. They are seated. The scene opens when the presentation is already underway)
BHO: How many of you know someone that completed suicide? (more than half the soldiers raise their hands. This catches the BHO off guard, as he didn’t expect that many. He should show this on his face. It should be a mix of pain and sorrow and deep empathy. This moment should be frozen for a few seconds to impact the audience) How many of you were particularly close to that person? (about a third raise their hand; this moment should also be frozen) How many of you blamed yourselves, in some kind of way, big or small, for that suicide? (all the soldiers who raised their hands the first time raise them again)
I appreciate your honesty. And I grieve with you. And for you. Those that raised your hands are known as suicide survivors. It’s far more painful than a regular death. And I’m not minimizing death at all. My grandmother’s death when I was 19 was the worst moment of my life. So I want to be very clear that I’m not minimizing death. (said strongly) But, suicide is different. You see, when someone dies, we feel a loss. A deep loss. We grieve. When someone we know or love completes suicide, we also feel loss. And we grieve. But it’s also terribly confusing. And many of us, either early on or a little bit later, also experience some anger. (looks around at the soldiers, and then to the audience) And it’s very hard being angry at our dead friend or father or lover or child.
Right now, eight of the soldiers that I’m treating here are suicide survivors. I’m also calling home to New York and New Jersey and treating another four people there each week. In every single case, people struggle with trying to figure out why. (pause, then) Why? (pause) Even if there is a note, we’ll never really know. But that doesn’t stop us from asking. From wondering. From blaming. And that makes the grief harder. Last longer. Almost everyone also plays retroactive detective. They go backwards and think about how they didn’t answer a text a few weeks before, or how they noticed that the person seemed a little different. That they should have noticed. Or said something. (looks around) We blame ourselves. We look for clues that weren’t there to beat ourselves up with. And we do.
There’s something else though. I didn’t know about it until a couple of years ago. I’m a survivor of suicide too. One of my closest friends took his own life. He was a vet. He was smart and funny and wildly successful. He seemed to have it all. And one day, seemingly out of the blue, he killed himself. I was absolutely devastated. I was sad, confused, and angry. I also pondered on what I might have missed; I’m not some fucking layman. I’m a trained therapist. I understand trauma and suicide. I read facial expressions and body language. I can figure out the underlying meaning of statements. I didn’t see it coming. How is that possible? (pause) That’s what suicide does to those that are left behind.
After a couple of weeks, I experienced something else. I wondered what the fuck was wrong with me that someone so close to me would kill themselves. I wrestled with it for a bit until I figured it out. (looks into the audience, the actor should try to locate someone who seems particularly moved by this and say these next words to him/her) There is nothing wrong with me. The suicide wasn’t about me.
So, for those of you that have contemplated suicide or A Failure of Indoctrination 135 even planned it a bit, and don’t worry, I don’t want any of you to raise your hands about that, you need to know this: you can neither comprehend nor conceptualize the damage you would do to those left behind. Your parents, your spouse, your kids, your friends, your co-workers, your colleagues. Your fellow soldiers. You would drop a nuclear bomb on them. You need to stay.