Laurie Hernandez Got the Nation’s Attention and New Jersey’s Respect

By Matt Alcalde

First and foremost, who do I have to talk to in order to get Ryan Lochte to meet with Laurie? If anyone on the Olympic Committee is reading this, please make the girl’s wish come true!

If you live and breathe gymnastics, you’ve most likely heard about Laurie Hernandez. But for everyone else in the US, who may not watch as much gymnastics as we should, Laurie gained our attention after her brilliant floor routine. For those of us lucky enough to live in NJ, we were ahead of the curve, thanks to local media, like, giving a shoutout to all the Olympic Athletes from NJ heading to Rio.

“Hey, that’s the girl from Old Bridge!” has pretty much been spoken by every New Jerseyan. Let’s just say NJ is proud, and we have every reason to be. In a climate that tends to stereotype the younger generation as “lazy millennials,” it’s always great to see someone accomplish so much at 16. She’s someone that people, young and old, can look up to as an example of what it takes to win and, more importantly, how to keep your composure when things don’t go your way.

When Laurie wasn’t chosen for a spot on the Olympic All-Around, she could have allowed that setback to eat away at her. Instead, she understood that her life’s work has never been absent of challenges. In 2014, after a bad vault landing, Hernandez dislocated her right knee cap, tearing her patella ligament and bruising her MCL. Surgery was required to fix her knee, which included attaching a cadaver’s ligament onto her own. But she came back, stronger and more competitive than ever. When Laurie found out she didn’t make the All-Around in Rio, she likely realized that nothing in her life had been easy, so why start now.  Throughout the Olympics, she showed grace, rooted for her team and was rewarded with Gold and Silver.

Culturally, New Jersey is a very diverse state. As you can imagine the Latino population is 100% behind Laurie, a descendant of Puerto Rican grandparents. Born in New Brunswick, NJ, Laurie Hernandez is the first US-born Hispanic athlete to make the the US Women’s Gymnastic Olympic team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. As the Olympics are being held in a Latin American country, Brazil, she’s a guaranteed favorite among all that see her perform.

The future is definitely bright for the 16-year-old. Tokyo 2020 is already on the mind of many, including Laurie Hernandez, who as of the foreseeable future will be part of the US Women’s Gymnastic Olympic team. But that is still four years away, and there will be plenty of other things to keep her focused in the meantime. Now, Laurie Hernandez will be facing an entirely new test: how to stay focused when everybody knows your name. If her Twitter account has any reflection of the newfound fame she will have when she gets back to the States, it’s going to be a tough challenge. New Jersey isn’t worried. With that personality, it’s easy to have faith that Laurie will persevere. 


Will NY Mets Take Advantage of a Stanton-less Marlins?

Embed from Getty Images

By Matt Alcalde

Marlins Manager Don Mattingly announced over the weekend that the club slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, had suffered a groin injury and would make a trip to the disabled list. MRI results show he has a grade 3 left groin strain, a far worse diagnosis that will likely end Stanton’s season. Let’s just say, this isn’t the best news for the Marlins, who have held their own under Donnie Baseballs’ helm and are only 0.5 games out of the NL Wild Card.

To put things into perspective, let’s look at the numbers. Out of 381 at bats in 2016, Giancarlo is hitting .241/.329/.496. At 25 home runs, he was on par to mushroom his entire 2015 HR total of 27. And let’s not even mention his OPS…okay, I can’t help myself! His on-base plus slugging is an insane 0.826, 2nd in the Majors. His bat and outfielding will be surely missed by the Marlins…but 1,300 miles North, there’s a sigh of relief coming from Queens.

Giancarlo Stanton has been a complete nightmare for the NY Mets. All their World Series caliber pitching can’t seem to stop him from not just getting on base, but from running down multiple base hits. (Stanton has an OPS of 1.115 against the Mets this year.) 1.115!!! (Yes, I am scream-typing!) His Triple-Slash Line against the Mets is better than his 2016 season numbers (.293/.383/.732). 

So with this in mind, will the Mets be able to take advantage of the Marlins’ loss of their power hitter? My heart wants to say “yes,” but my rational side says, “no.” Mainly because the problems plaguing the Mets are a sum of many parts, not one of which can be resolved by an injury to their divisional rivals. Stacked injuries, a starting rotation that looks otired from a long 2015 season and huge problems with situational hitting – it all looks too much for the Mets to overcome.

But does it help that they won’t be facing Giancarlo for the rest of the season? Sure, why not. As of August 15th, the Mets are 2.5 games out of the NL Wild Card. With seven regular season games against the Marlins, any advantage the Mets are given, they’ll take. The real question will be if they choose to determine their own destiny, or continue to wait for their opponents to announce bad news. 

Don’t Question Her Patriotism

(Photo Above: Gabby Douglas. Source: The Huffington Post – Zondervan)

I’ve attended enough baseball games to know that as soon as the National Anthem comes on, you take off your cap, stand at attention and place your hand over your heart. It’s a sign of respect for the game and for the USA.

What I love most about this tradition is how it has the capability to unite 45,000 strangers to salute their county. And as the singer reaches the, “Home of the Brave, And the Land of the Free,” the hair on my neck stands on end as a wave of cheers and applauds begins to swell.

There’s always a few that decide its more important to eat their hot dog or down their beer to take in the moment, and although I might not like it, I’m proud that I live in country that doesn’t persecute those that choose to express their patriotism however they choose. Or do we?

In the last week, US Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas has received a barrage of abusive online comments, attacking her “lack of patriotism” because she did not place her hand over her heart during the National Anthem. Bullying comments, like trending Tweets calling her “Crabby Gabby,” isn’t new to the 20-year-old. Far worse has been said about the gymnast phenom, much of which has had a racial overtone. I won’t repeat it here, because these hateful comments don’t deserve an additional platform, but you can look it up for yourself on a recent Guardian Article.

Gabby Douglas_Vanity Fair

Gabby Douglas (Source: Vanity Fair)

Let’s just be clear, Gabby Douglas deserves better treatment. She’s worked her butt off and sacrificed a good chunk of her childhood, with absolutely no regrets, to become a powerhouse in World’s gymnastics. And even though she might choose to wear a pink leotard, which might upset some Fox News Pundits for not being Red, White and Blue, she’s doesn’t need to apologize for lacking pride in her country, for not smiling enough or for any other silly criticism from people who have nothing better to do than tear others down. Gestures do matter. But so does the fact that the Douglas family has deep roots serving in the US Military and that Gabby does the seemingly impossible by competing with the World’s best and bringing home Gold. To have the nerve to question the patriotism of such an immense talent as Gabby Douglas is idiotic.

As Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, was quoted by The Guardian, “I don’t think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not. It’s in your actions towards your country – how well are you abiding by its laws, how well are you helping your fellow citizens?”

So I ask all the critics out there: How are you really helping? By tearing down one of the people that creating the national pride you’re professing to respect?

You made us proud, Gabby!



Michael Phelps: All-Time Olympian Learns Life Is More Than Swimming

(Photo Above: Michael Phelps ; Source: NBC Sports)

You know you’re part of something greater than yourself when the people around you scream for you to never retire. You know you’re loved when those who raised you storm away in anger, only to come back to make sure you’re okay. You know you’ve earned the respect of your teammates and competitors alike, when they choose you to carry their banner.

This is the story of Michael Phelps – a man who has evolved from a furious competitor in Beijing 2008, to a reluctant Olympian in London 2012 and finally, a legend with a clear conscience in Rio 2016. Those calling him for to return in 2018 (Tokyo) are his teammates, huddled together after winning Gold at the 4×100 meter medley relay final. It’s not surprising they’d want him back because he is just that clutch. In the third leg, with the US trailing Great Britain by 0.61 second, his teammates trusted…needed Phelps to regain command. And with that, Phelps’ strong butterfly stroke gave Nathan Adrian a 0.41 second lead that USA would not relinquish.

Bob Bowman has coached Phelps since he was 11 years old. For any of you out there whom have ever loved another, which I’m going to bet is a lot of you, you all know that love comes at the expense of anger. You can’t truly allow someone to enter your heart before you first let them under your skin. And for Bowman, watching Phelps grow up into a fierce competitor and stubborn young man – it must have been difficult trying to keep Phelps out of trouble. A coach and father figure, Bowman had to balance training a winner and raising a good man in the face of so much temptation. As expected, there were clashes and Phelps made mistakes, like his DUI arrest in September 2014.

Bowman was there through it all. He may have been disappointed, but he understood the burden weighing on Phelps. Imagine that from a young age, everyone saw you as a great physically talented athlete and chose to dedicate much of their lives to helping you hone your craft. Raw talent meets determined training and the result is pure victory. Time and time again, you prove you’re more than hype. With every win, your fanbase grows, the expectations of your coaches increases and the pool of haters begins to overflow. It’s a lot to take in, no doubt. Phelps made mistakes not because he’s a bad person, but because he is actually a human being. Coming to terms with that isn’t easy when your young, let alone an accomplished Olympian. He shut out his coach, the fans, his detractors and wanted nothing to do with the London Olympics. Phelps had four years after London to realize what drives him isn’t the expectation of countless people, but rather the love of swimming and coming to terms with his human imperfection. What a relief it must have been to free himself from all that stress, and it made him a better champion once he did. For what it’s worth, which is a lot, Bowman stayed with him and allowed him to grow, and their relationship as partners and friends is better for it.

Phelps has proven to be the difference between Gold and Silver for his team countless times, but winning isn’t the reason why they believe in him. Hundreds of years ago, kings would rally their bannermen to protect the realm. There was honor in carrying your sigil into battle, representing your country. A smart king wouldn’t just surround himself with the strongest knights that guaranteed victory. No, he would summon his most loyal noblemen – those he could respect and who respected him. In similar fashion, Phelps’ teammates chose him to be the US standard-bearer at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony. The decision to have him bring in the US flag is a testament to the respect he’s earned and redeemed.

Phelps came to understand that being driven to win is like keeping your foot on the accelerator – eventually, if you don’t let up, you’ll burn out. Phelps has finally learned to appreciate the road, savoring every triumph and setback along the way. He inspires his team not by placing them on his shoulders, but by being himself. Before his final race at the 4×100 meter medley, Phelps was quoted as saying, “I don’t have anything to say, but let’s go out there and kill it.” He could have pretended he was some inspirational orator and tried to come up with a long speech, but that’s just not him. He spoke from the heart and sometimes that gets the best response. Ryan Murphy, who was revved up by these words, lead the US off with his world-record time in the 100 backstroke. I’d say that was pretty inspiring.

Michael Jordon, Brett Favre, Martin Brodeur, Mike Piazza – all greats in their respective sports and days, and all have had to deal with the passing of time. It’s never easy seeing your sports heroes move into their golden years, and it’s even harder for the athlete to come to terms with retirement. The real greats don’t live in the past but seek to do new and better things onthe public stage. The sports legends live on because they know that the rush of winning is a temporary high as opposed to living honest. For Phelps, winning his 28th career Olympic medal and his 23rd gold was “the cherry on top” of a great career. For now, there’s a sense of closure for Michael Phelps. As Bob Bowman puts it, “There is a baby and a house and a wife. He can see the next chapter of his life. And he can’t wait. I don’t worry about him anymore. He’s on a great path, and I think that’s the biggest difference.”

Dream Big, Ladies!


Dream big…and do good. For all the fathers out there that dream for their daughters and to all the little girls with big hopes, tonight we reaffirm that the future is yours for the taking.

There continues to be a need to empower women and create the opportunities that allow an equal stage for female innovators throughout the world. But for just tonight, we celebrate this historic moment. For tomorrow, it’s back to work. Tonight, we lift our young daughters onto our shoulders. Tomorrow, they’ll lift all of society up to a better life!

It’s been busy…

You know those times in your life where you barely have time to get a haircut and you have to bring out the hair trimmer and hope whatever you do to your hair resembles something not like the bowl cuts you got as a kid? That busy!

Remember when you used to be able to go to the gym 4-5 times a week and enjoy the extra energy that it gave you? Now I settle for climbing the stairs from the living room to the bedroom – every time I forget my cell, and then my watch, and then my wallet, and then my glasses. I have a pot belly but my legs are looking great!

Remember those Sundays when it was raining and you’d turn on the TV, sit on the couch and Netflix the day away? It took my wife and I a week to watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Do you understand the torturous patience it takes to invest the time in finishing that awful movie, knowing you’ll just wish that you could get your time back but too stubborn to quit half-way through?

Baby, work, dogs, baby…repeat.  It’s easy to get lost in the routine. But somewhere within the day in-day out, I try my best to read between the lines and find little successes. Whether it’s finishing a project at work that has a big impact for my team and the great people we work with, or just succeeding in putting a fussy baby to sleep without him waking up once, I try to remember these victories. That’s what StarterDads is all about – a written log of what it means to succeed as a dad (as a parent) – even when you’re completely drained or feel like the setbacks are wearing you down. So bring on the busy! And let’s get StarterDads started…again.