Facebook redefines ‘family’ in unexpected ways

If a guy named Matt Smith meets a guy named Steve Smith it may, at best, raise a nod of acknowledgement. It means nothing.

But somehow, especially for my father, if two guys with a weird name like Bolsinger meet, it’s a family reunion.

My father is the keeper of all things Bolsinger. For more than a decade he kept a blog called The House of Bolsinger documenting Bolsingers from the past and connected them to each other in the present.

Thanks to Facebook, these associations are far easier than ever. Pop has “met” a gang of Bolsingers from all across the country, including the mother of a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher named Mike Bolsinger, who my dad calls “my cousin.”

When Pop heard Mike would be pitching in AT&T Park in my beloved San Francisco, he suggested (that’s putting it mildly) that I go do a story on “your cousin Mike.”

Fair enough. I try to please him when I can. I nabbed a press pass and headed down to the yard.

It sounded silly, especially trying to pitch this to various magazines with a straight face (and explain it to the media people of both the Dodgers and the Giants), but as Ole’ Cousin Mike took the mound on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I sat in the press box and felt this odd sense of pride for a stranger I’d never met.

I had first heard of Mike back in 2007 when he pitched for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  I was covering the Oakland A’s at the time and doing a lot of writing about the minor leagues and the draft. That strange name connection stuck and I’ve “followed” his career arc, very loosely ever since. When he first started in the big leagues, last year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, my brother noticed and sent me a text.

I went on and saw Mike struggling to get out of the fifth, if I recall. I texted the update to my brother.

“Well he’s a Bolsinger like us. Probably has a weanie arm,” he joked.

We are nothing but self-effacing. But still, both of us love baseball.  We were both just a touch pleased to see our odd name on the back of a baseball jersey.

As I sat in the press box, flipping through the press packet, I noticed Mike Bolsinger on the big screen of my favorite ballpark in the entire world. I snapped a photo and smiled. Cool, I thought, knowing full well it had absolutely nothing to do with me as a stranger with the same name took the mound.

I made the most of this day, like catching up to Mike’s manager Don Mattingly who said, “I thought he did really good. Got his breaking ball over and changed up with it. He did everything we asked him to do.”

I kept score the entire game, something I don’t do much anymore, but loved to do as a kid:

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Later I ran over to the Giants locker room and interviewed second baseman Joe Panik. He looked a bit confused when I asked him only one question.

“What did you think of Bolsinger today?”

Panik gave the customary quote of he did well, he made us battle, etc.

“Cool, thanks,” I said and walked away to his surprise.

Despite myself, I felt that familiar sense in my gut of pulling for him to do well, against my favorite team no less, a team whose World Series Championship last year made me so happy, I made it a point to go see the trophy they won.

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After the game I watched as a the gaggle of reporters surrounded Mike in the locker room asking him questions about his start. Mike’s on the fringes of the big leagues. He has had about dozen starts in his career. This experience was still pretty new to him and it showed. Not in an awkward big-headed way, but in the coolest way: He was digging it. And no, I didn’t know him, but I was…happy… for him as I watched.

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After the rest of the reporters left in search of other quotes, I was introduced to Mike and asked him questions no other reporter likely ever will.

“So what were the worst nicknames you were called growing up?”

His eyes rolled knowingly.

We swapped stories about the butchering of our name. He used the exact same words I’ve muttered so many times when he said, “I don’t get it. It’s said like it sounds. I tell people all the time, ‘there are no As, the L is before the S…”

“I know right,” I said. “Look, there’s no balls, no slinging.”

We both laughed and grimaced.

I shared some of my nicknames: Slinker, Bowlbutt, Ballsucker.

He’d heard similar. He said he’d raise a fist for emphasis until the nicknames cooled.

“I got lucky I guess, being a pitcher. I was called Bullseye.”

“Shit,” I said. “That’s awesome.”

I was genuinely jealous.

 

So there we stood in the middle of the Dodgers locker room after one of life’s truly big moments for Mike “Bullseye” Bolsinger and the only thing that brought us together is our strange last name and my father’s affinity for Facebook.

Somehow in this era of Facebook, the definition of “family” means something entirely different from I think ever intended. Most of the time I hate it, which is why I don’t go on it. These posts are placed remotely. I don’t “socialize” through Facebook. I don’t know what’s happening on Facebook. I avoid the ever-present reality show that we make of our lives on Facebook that may have something to do with the rampant narcissism that author David Brooks chronicles in his latest book, The Road to Character.

I can’t tell you how many family spats, dustups, hurt feelings and broken relationships started with the words “friend” or “post” or “like” or “didn’t like” related to Facebook. I’ve blissfully unaware of such nonsense. I’ve made my protest of this version of “social life” known with a T-shirt I wear often:

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My family and friends are the people I touch, the people I take pictures with, the ones who speak to me in person, not this loose cabal of stalkers who relate only via likes and posts.

You get the point right? I’m not a Facebook fan.

But…

But…

But this day in the sun that only came about because of Facebook and my father and my father’s affinity for other Bolsingers, I had to confess, it was pretty EFFin cool. Facebook “family” for a day? Sure. I’ll take it.

Mike made it easier. In all of the five minutes I’ve known him (yes, he’s my new BFF, but he doesn’t know it yet… maybe I’ll send him a “friend request!”) he showed the ability to laugh at himself, showed genuine humility and showed class.

As I listened to the gaggle of reporters asking him about his start, he admitted he was gacked (my word, not his) to face Buster Posey in a crucial situation in the 6th.

“That was fun,” he said.

I’ve interviewed several pro athletes. Few let reporters in on the joy of the game.

It wasn’t BS either. During his next start he gave up a monster home run to the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton that actually left Chavez Ravine… left the whole stadium not just the ball park. His reaction?

“I looked back and thought, ‘that was awesome,’ and then got on with the game,” he said.

A game he went on to win, no less, earning himself another start this Sunday, with Vin Scully, my all-time favorite of favorites announcing the name “Bolsinger.”

“Did he pronounce it right?” Mike asked me.

We both agreed he probably did and the legendary Vin Scully saying our name is right up there with pretty great days.

What’s not to like? His Twitter account highlights on my favorite Bible verses, Joshua 1:9:  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” It also has a photo of quote from my own hero, Martin Luther King Jr, taken at his D.C. memorial. I’m surprised a bit by our common interests.

If five minutes shows anything, it showed me Mike’s mother and father did a hell of a job.

“So congratulations on being the most famous Bolsinger now,” I told him. “Make us proud!”

He laughed. “I’ll do my best,” he said.

Even though I despise all things associated with the team of my youth (except Vin Scully and pitcher Mike Bolsinger) I find myself thinking ahead to Sunday and watching the game and listening to Vin say Bolsinger on the mound and knowing I will want him to win. How’s that for Facebook “family?”

It’s weird man, really weird. But in this day and age when Facebook dominates so much of our culture in so many tragic, disconnect, silly, ways, it’s nice to know that it does some good too, by connecting dots no matter how loosely in this great karmic world we call home that would likely have never been connected any other way.

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