To me, Binghamton is home.
Less than a week to go.
The two biggest things on my mind at this moment?
How am I going to get rid of the rest of this stuff filling my apartment?
How can I properly say thank you to everyone in Binghamton?
I’m not terribly worried about the stuff part, but the thanking this city part? Weighing on me like crazy.
Three or four times over the last two days, I’ve considered sitting here and individually thanking as many people as I could think of (and there are a lot!).
But this blog isn't about pandering or shout-outs. This blog is meant to be the deepest reflection of my emotions.
And so it wasn't until about 5 minutes ago that it hit me:
To me, Binghamton is home.
Look. I’m a born and raised Huntington kid. My family has deep roots across Long Island; my grandmother has owned a beautiful house on Plumtree Lane for decades and decades, where I spent much of my childhood. As the cornerstone of Huntington Coach, my Mom has safely delivered tens of thousands of Huntington’s youth to their various destinations; and don't even get me started on my Dad, one of the most accomplished chefs ever to step foot on Long Island.
But there was always something about me and Huntington.
I love the place. I absolutely love it. I am the president and founder of the European Republic Fan Club (not really, but …). I’m probably still in the AMC Shore 8 record books for my efforts as the push-cart guy on Harry Potter weekend (see photo). I spent countless hours on the baseball diamond at Washington Elementary with my core group of friends; I even dated one of the most beautiful girls in Huntington Bay.
For better or for worse, I was wired to give my all to everything I put my heart into. I don't half-ass things, I never have and I never will. I strive to be the best at every single thing I do.
Problem was, in Huntington … I could never be the best.
I think the problem’s deepest roots lie on the soccer field at Huntington High School.
Growing up, I LOVED soccer. One of my saddest moments was outgrowing my eligibility in the St. Hugh’s soccer league -- of course, I’d stay on as a referee, and even coached one season.
But when I reached Huntington High School, out came the big boys.
Jacob. Kenneth. David. Eric. Wayne. (OK, Wayne’s not that big.)
And of course, Tim, the superstar goalie who literally stood between me and playing time.
Freshman year, of course, I had no shot at making the varsity squad -- I’ll give you that.
But sophomore year? Nope …
How about junior year? You know, when almost all the juniors make varsity but -- add emphasis here -- at least during the playoffs, any juniors stuck on JV would be summoned to the big club? Sorry, Mr. Strub …
I think if Coach John Pagano could’ve reasonably kept me on junior varsity my senior year, he would've done so.
My senior year, we were awful. The bigger picture is borderline comical; my junior year, the varsity team was sensational; if I remember correctly, the year after I left, they were back atop the league again.
But my senior year? A catastrophic lost cause for the Blue Devils. So when Senior Day rolled around -- with Tim, the aforementioned superstar goalie, sidelined due to injury -- it was my moment. Finally, Chris Strub’s day to shine.
I don’t recall the score or the opponent, but I remember making one of the best saves of my life in the first half, on a ball everyone in attendance thought I was beat on, over my head -- fellow keepers know how tough it can be to have to retreat and punch a ball over the crossbar. My shining moment, right?
So when the second half rolled around -- again, in this pointless final game of the season -- my emotions began to set in.
(Remember, at this point, I’m a terrible soccer player -- at least in the shadow of Tim.)
[By the way, I should note, I harbor absolutely zero negative feelings towards Tim -- the kid was an absolute artist in net.]
The third-stringer, so to speak -- called up, of course, as I had never been, from junior varsity -- was Jon. Jon was a lifelong friend of mine, amongst the aforementioned group of baseball-playing friends that lived in the area right around Washington El.
Sending out the 11 for the second half, Coach John Pagano, the man who’d kept me on the junior varsity squad the previous year, citing my “leadership skills,” motioned for Jon.
I’ve been through a lot in my life, but that moment is one that will always, always, always stick with me: subbed out for a sophomore, on Senior Day, in a meaningless game, in front of a significant crowd that included my aforementioned gorgeous Huntington Bay blonde girlfriend.
When I look back at my life, my career, who I’ve become as a man and my determination to strive to be the best at all costs, I think about that moment, that moment I was relegated to the bench, that moment I was told, after YEARS of being told I wasn't good enough, and FINALLY having MY moment, to take the field beside the young men that I’d grown up with for my final time ever -- and being sent to the bench.
The following fall, my life changed dramatically when I arrived in Binghamton.
And you know what? In Binghamton? I was never “sent to the bench.”
From the moment I walked into Mohawk Hall and met Christina Ritter, I became somebody. I was no longer the “scrub” (by the way, that rhymes with my last name).
Suddenly, I was a Bearcat.
And Binghamton gave me the chance to roar.
I joined Pipe Dream and quickly ascended to become the Sports Editor. Younger, greener writers looked to me for guidance and advice, as my voice became representative of the students’ views on our amazing fellow student-athletes.
I joined the Co-Rec football league, with my not-quite-as-athletic-as-me roommate, Dmitry, and the diminutive-in-height-only Lee Karchawer. Suddenly, all that athletic frustration I felt on a ruined Senior Day in Huntington turned to never-ending positivity. I put on that yellow jersey knowing coach wouldn't send me to the bench. (God forbid I ever missed a game!)
I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team, where, instead of being shunned for lacking certain technical abilities, I was simply moved to a different position where my speed and determination paid the team remarkable dividends.
I started working at the Press and Sun-Bulletin, where my hard work quickly took me from a part-time proofer (the bottom rung) to the copy desk’s go-to front-page designer. I even was given an opportunity to write a column for about a year, and to this day, (and this will probably resume now that I shaved my beloved beard), I still have random encounters with people who recognize me from my mugshot.
I made the almost-unheard-of move from the editorial side to the advertising side of the Press & Sun-Bulletin, because of the faith that the Publisher and Online Director showed in me.
And then, in 2012, I was literally handed the keys to an unbelievably wonderful opportunity at the Lackawanna Train Station, with Ad Elements.
Opportunity after opportunity after opportunity. Listen: anyone who says a young man doesn’t have a shot to succeed in Binghamton has never heard my story, and never had the amazingly good fortune to encounter the thousands of wonderful people that have made me believe that Binghamton is an amazing place to call home.
I don’t have the space to sit here and individually thank every person that has made my time in Binghamton so incredible. But I DO have the time to sit at Food & Fire tomorrow (Friday, 5/23) and thank anyone who has the chance to stop by and give me a hug and/or a handshake.
The last 11 years of my life have been shaped by the people that surround me here in the Southern Tier, and I am INCREDIBLY blessed to have come across so many amazing people; some professionally, some personally, and quite a few in that awkward blurred area in between.
I truly hope the nature of my journey isn’t misinterpreted, although unfortunately some people will see it as “just another BU grad abandoning Binghamton.”
If that is honestly your thought about me, do us both a favor and don’t read my site anymore. Don’t follow me on Twitter, don’t visit me at Food & Fire tomorrow and don’t buy the shirt.
You’re part of the problem.
So here it is: This summer, I’m on a mission to change the world. I’m quickly approaching 29, and every single day between now and then is a journey to bring inspiration, motivation and energy to every person I encounter.
That mission will bring me around the country, and hopefully bring me in contact -- directly and digitally -- with millions of people.
That mission will change the way you “consume” social media.
If you feel stuck, or uninspired, or depressed, or overweight, or lonely, that mission will change the way you approach your day-to-day life.
That mission started in Binghamton. For that, I cannot thank you enough.