Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Best. Birthday. Ever. (Courtesy of the Blue Jackets)

The Dark Blue Toddler and I took the trek down to Nationwide Arena for one of the off-day open practices, and I was pleased to see roughly 20 Columbus Blue Jackets fans in the stands.  One who stood out was the "Birthday Boy" - sporting his white CBJ sweater and a birthday hat - who was in attendance with his dad and step-mom.

Mase's stick from a CBJ practice = Best. Birthday. Ever.
The young man was well-positioned to catch the action (and there was a lot of action, as the team was working on breakout passes for much of the practice), and the team sure noticed him.  Steve Mason flipped his practice stick over the glass, Chris Clark tossed him a puck and another puck popped over the ice in the course of practice.  From a "fan at practice" perspective, he totally lit up the stat sheet.

His father, Woody, recognized yours truly and my wandering soul of a son.    He introduced DBT and me to his son, Tyler, who was sporting an ear-to-ear smile since Mase literally dropped his birthday present in his lap.  Without question, Tyler was celebrating his tenth birthday in grand style.  As his father offered in an email after practice:
My 10 year old birthday boy, Tyler, told us on the way back to school that today was the best day of his life! What a blessing it is to have this franchise in town and to have players who genuinely seem to care about the fans. Tyler is a CBJ lifer—he was less than six weeks old at his first game, the Sanderson OT winner against Boston in year one.
From one father to another, that is Living The Dream.  Woody had more to share, however, in his email.  Here are his eloquent thoughts on how his boy, born in the CBJ's inaugural year, has grown with the team.

To put the piece in appropriate context, this was written on the eve of the Blue Jackets' playoff appearance in 2009.  The words are no less heartfelt today and perhaps offer a little inspiration in this anniversary year.
The biggest Columbus Blue Jackets fan I know missed the inaugural game on October 7, 2000. It was twenty days before he was born.

His two brothers were there. One was wearing a jersey he got at the Chiller the day jerseys went on sale. It was a youth medium, if memory serves. That little boy is now taller than every player on the current Jackets roster.

The biggest fan I know saw his first game at Nationwide Arena on December 8, 2000—at the ripe age of 43 days. He could not have known what was happening on the gleaming 17,000 square feet of ice which lay a few dozen feet below him. His dad cradled him as Geoff Sanderson lit the lamp with just eight seconds left in overtime. He didn’t even wake up.

He and his brothers have cheered for Stevie Maltais and Robert Kron and David Ling. They got excited about additions like Alexander Selivanov and Alexander Svitov, like Scott Lachance and Todd Marchant. They were there at practices at the ice house, catching a puck flipped over the boards by Kevyn Adams, and had their noses pressed against the glass in Nationwide waiting for the Jackets to take the ice for warm ups.

They’ve been welcomed to the NHL, they’ve ignited the night and carried the flag. They’ve walked out of the arena with their heads down after beat downs and giveaways and heart breaks.

Now they’re growing up.

Just like their team.

And now, as I look at the magnetic standings board which the biggest fan I know updates more frequently than he changes his underwear (he’s an eight year old boy, after all) I realize not just that it matters, but why it matters.

Because through the years of Jan Calhoun and Hannes Hyvonen and Anson Carter, they’ve never lost hope. They’ve kept the faith and they’ve always expected something wondrous to happen for their team. And faith and hope can be powerful things. Faith and hope can help you get through the hard stuff kids face—through a parent’s divorce, or a bad report card or a new school—and faith and hope will help them get through the hard stuff adults face too.

That’s why this year, 2008-09, will always be special. For that little biggest Jackets fan I know and for his brothers and for their dad. Because this season, thanks to Mr. Mac and Hitch and Howson and Nash and Juice and Mase and Jake and RJ and every player who donned the union blue, their faith and their hope in their team has been rewarded.

So as I sit next to them for that first playoff game in Nationwide Arena, I’ll smile and fight back a tear, and pray that as they live their lives, those lessons of faith and hope--that notion that good things will eventually happen--will continue to be real and will carry them through challenges and opportunities which are infinitely larger than a gleaming, even beautiful, 17,000 square foot sheet of ice.
Happy 10th birthday, Tyler, and kudos to the Columbus Blue Jackets for making his 10th "anniversary" that much more special.

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