These baseball years

On my bulletin board I have a faded article from Southern Living magazine titled These Baseball Years. It’s from the June 2003 issue, when my son was four years old and just dipping his toe in the water of what would become a full-fledged baseball obsession. Now, 9 years later and in his last hurrah of Little League, I re-read the article and nodded my head in agreement.

9-year-old All Star

10-year-old All Star

11-year-old All Star

then…

 

…and now

Baseball has been a constant in our house, and it’s provided me a way to connect with my kid, who tends to be rather quiet and lives in his own head. He’s never been one to come home from school with news of the day’s events, nor does he disclose much under direct questioning. If there were a hall of fame for one-word answers, he’d be in it.

All of that changed, however, when I realized that if I knew something about baseball, especially about his beloved Red Sox, I’d have a direct line into him. Any parenting expert will tell you that if you want to connect with your kids, you have to do it at their level and with their interests in mind.

In the article, author Joe Rada says that “baseball is a grand metaphor for the game of life. Through baseball we explore the weighty issues of winning and losing gracefully; getting along with others; setting goals; playing hard and by the rules; rolling with the punches; the value of physical health and the treacheries of drug abuse.”

He also describes how his son sleeps on baseball-themed sheets under a ceiling fan with baseball-bat blades. Sounds familiar. At the time when I ripped the article out of the magazine, my kid slept on sheets decorated with cars & trucks, but it wasn’t long before we re-did his room with a baseball theme. We chose the neutral brown paint color for his room based on which shade was closest to infield dirt, and the one accent wall we painted red was carefully matched to the Red Sox jerseys. His ceiling fan is regulation, but his lamp and his curtain tie-backs are baseball-themed. As he moved through Little League seasons, we added shelves to hold trophies, and now I’m worried those shelves will collapse under the weight. 

This last season of All Stars is the end of an era. We’ve spent as much time in the stands as we have around our dinner table, and we’ve bonded with the other players’ families in a friends-for-life kind of way. We’ve seen each other through job loss, injuries & illness, new babies, and high school graduations. We’ve supported each other through health crises, including my own. The summer I spent in the hospital instead of at the All Star games in 2010 was brutal, but it was made bearable by the love and support that came from the team. The Season of the Pink Sweatbands was the team’s best, and my framed photo of the entire team, including coaches, wearing pink sweatbands and saying “This one’s for you!” sat in each hospital room I occupied that summer. It remains one of my most treasured possessions.

Like Joe Rada, we plan our family vacations around the baseball schedule, delaying as long as possible in hopes that we’ll be making a trip to the State Championship in late July before we take off for two weeks at the beach.

I don’t know why I kept that faded article all these years, but now that my kid is heading toward the end of his Little League career, I’m glad I did. As Rada writes, “Long after my son settles into being whatever kind of man he’ll be, I’ll still see his upturned chin and hear his sweet voice shouting across the backyard, ‘I got it!’” I will, too. 

 


Elizabeth Lloyd: you’re an idiot

I’d use a more colorful name but she’d probably sue me. Like she’s suing an 11-year-old boy for throwing a baseball. In a dugout. At a Little League ball field, where presumably baseballs are thrown and sometimes not caught. But wait, if Elizabeth Lloyd has chosen to insert herself into the media, in her money-grubbing way, she’s a public figure, right? So I can call her whatever name I like and she has to take it. Perhaps I need to brush up on my libel knowledge, but in the meantime, I’m going to call her Asshat.

Here’s the story, in case you were paying attention to real news that actually matters and missed it: Asshat was at a Little League game in New Jersey two years ago, watching her son play, and was hit in the face by a ball. She was sitting on top of a picnic table next to the fenced dugout where a catcher, Matthew Migliaccio, was warming up his teammate, the pitcher. Migliaccio overthrew the ball and it hit Asshat in the face. According to the local newspaper, He ran over to her to ask if she was ok, and she told him she was fine. Says Matthew: “I went over to see if she was okay, and she said that she was fine and not to worry about it. About like three weeks after, she came and gave me a hug and she told me that it wasn’t my fault.” Asshat said to Matthew, “I know you didn’t do anything wrong.”

However, two years later — just days before the statute of limitations would expire — Asshat decides that errant ball was thrown “intentionally and recklessly” and she needs half a million dollars for it. WTH??

Asshat claims that Matthew assaulted and battered her.

WTH??

This claim is insulting to anyone who has truly been assaulted and/or battered. I’m sick.

So is Matthew. Poor baby was minding his own business, probably playing MW3 on the Playstation like the 13-year-old boy who lives at my house, when the doorbell rings and he is served papers. A 13-year-old child was served papers. Matthew said, “I think it’s pretty mean to sue someone after you told them that you knew it wasn’t their fault.”

Pretty mean indeed.

Matthew’s attorney, Anthony Pagano, says the case is bogus and the family will not settle with Asshat. “What are we gonna do, take his bike? He’s 11,” Pagano said.

Does this look like a malicious person intent on inflicting injury? Not hardly.

Fact: 11-year-old kids overthrow balls. Fact: 11-year-old kids do not always catch overthrown balls. Fact: Elizabeth Lloyd is an asshat.

The overthrown ball traveled more than 60 feet before it hit Asshat, who was sitting 5 feet from the fenced bullpen. Reports conclude that while Matthew is an avid gamer, playing on 3 different teams, he was 11 years old at the time of the “assault” and didn’t exactly have a cannon of an arm like one sees in the major league. Matthew’s father says ”It’s absurd to expect every 11-year-old to throw the ball on target. Everyone knows you’ve got to watch out. You assume some risk when you go out to a field. That’s just part of being at a game.”

Hear hear. Guess what, Asshat — life is risky; get a helmet.

Apparently Asshat’s husband is an asshat, too, and he’s also suing Matthew, for the loss of “services, society, and consortium” of his wife. I guess that means he’s a shameless money-grubber, too, and Mr & Mrs Asshat are demanding a jury trial. The suit claims Matthew’s actions were negligent and careless through ”engaging in inappropriate physical and/or sporting activity” near Mrs Asshat. She claims she continues to suffer “pain and anguish, incur medical expenses and has been unable to carry out her usual duties and activities.”
I’d like to show Mrs Asshat some pictures of the hole in my chest wall after a post-mastectomy infection wreaked havoc on my body. I’d like to explain to her what real pain and anguish is all about. I’d like to enumerate the ways in which a month of hospitalization from that infection screwed up my life and prevented me from being able to carry out my usual duties and activities. I’d like to tell her what it feels like to be on powerful, gut-wrenching antibiotics for nearly one full year, so that she gains a scintilla of an idea of what it means to really suffer. I’d like to lament the fact that that damned infection caused me to undergo a heinous reconstruction that will likely never achieve the results I want and deserve, despite everyone’s best efforts. I’d like to show her what it means to live the rest of one’s life scarred, scared, and dissatisfied. I’m pretty sure there would be a long line of cancer victims with similar stories to share. But do we sue the hospital for contracting infections? Do we sue the doctors because something went wrong? Do we sue the hospital personnel for not better protecting us from possible harm? Do we sue cancer for afflicting us? Nope, we chalk it up to rotten luck, wrong-place-wrong-time, shit happens and get on with our lives.
I’ve spent a lot of time at Little League ball fields in the last 8 years since my kid started playing. I’ve been hit by a baseball and I’ve been nailed by a tennis ball hit by a grown-up. It hurts, but you get over it and move on. You don’t sue the kid who threw the ball. Sheesh. Even an Asshat should know that.
Maybe Matthew’s family should sue Mr & Mrs Asshat because she intentionally put her face in the way of his ball. Or maybe they should sue the Asshats because she was willfully and intentionally misusing the picnic table. Asshat’s ass should have been on the bench, not on the table. She was asking for it, really.
My blogging idol at People I Want to Punch in the Throat wrote an open letter to Asshat. Read it. She’s much more adept than I at saying what she really thinks (I know, shocking, right, that someone would write more openly and with less of a filter than I?). I hope Mr & Mrs Asshat read it, too.

Loyalty

The news of our beloved Red Sox trading Kevin Youkilis got me thinking about loyalty. It’s an under-appreciated trait, IMHO, and its value tends to be most noticed in its absence.

Youk was one of my favorite players, both for his on-field production and for his feisty attitude. He spoke his mind and took the heat that ensued from fans and press who prefer their players to shut up and play. He was part of the Red Sox from 2001, and was an integral part of the roster that my family fell in love with in our early days of Sox indoctrination. I’ll never forget this little Sox fan asking me what his beloved Nomar did wrong when he was traded in 2004. This loyal fan didn’t yet understand that baseball is not just his favorite game, but a business as well, and players are commodities that are moved and used to ensure financial success. It’s a hard-learned lesson and one that removed forever a piece of my little guy’s innocence.

Despite Youk’s last name, he’s not actually Greek but this Greek girl considers him an honorary countryman. In the wildly successful book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis christened Youk “Euclis: The Greek God of Walks” and the nickname stuck. I appreciated Youk for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was his record for most consecutive errorless games at first base (until Casey Kotchman came along, anyway). He’s scrappy and intense, and as Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan so aptly described, “He does not look like an MVP candidate; more a refrigerator repairman, a butcher, the man selling hammers behind the counter at the True Value hardware store.”

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I’m thinking he could easily pass for a crew member on “The Deadliest Catch” as well. All part of his charm. His Gold-Glove-Award-winning, three-time MLB All Star, and two-time World Series champion self will be greatly missed by this member of Red Sox nation. Upon my first visit to Fenway, a decade ago, I couldn’t understand why fans uniformly booed Youk when he came up to bat. I quickly realized they weren’t booing but chanting “Yoooooooooouk!”  I hope to see many jerseys sporting #20 when we go to Fenway in August. I’ll be wearing mine.

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Is it strange to feel so sad seeing our current favorite player hugging an outgoing Sox mainstay? Is it weird to feel bereft about a player’s departure from a favorite team? Is it naive to want everything to stay the same? Sometimes loyalty brings great sadness; to pledge oneself opens one up to vulnerability. And unfortunately, loyalty does come and go. I learned this firsthand when given a cancer diagnosis.

A crisis, whether health or other, galvanizes some and chases away others. Friends show their true selves, for good and for bad. Some of the people I most expected to be there for me upon diagnosis and in the trying days beyond were the first to depart. The reasons are as varied as the people. I imagine fear is top among the list of reasons people flee when a close friend is given shockingly bad news. While everyone knows in their rational brain that cancer isn’t contagious, the proximity of a dreaded disease causes some people to distance themselves from the afflicted person. Personally, I don’t get that, as I was brought up to believe that a time of crisis is the best time to be by a friend’s side. This lesson was reaffirmed and underscored tenfold as new friends appeared on the scene in my hour of need. Y’all know who you are, and I thank you, again and again. Another reason for the exodus is lack of loyalty. My sweet mama used to tell me it’s easy to be a good friend when everything is peachy, but the real friends, the loyal friends, will be there when things aren’t so peachy. As usual, she was right.

Confucius said, “The scholar does not consider gold and jade to be precious treasures, but loyalty and good faith.” I’m not much of a scholar, but I do treasure loyalty.

 

 


Lucky 13!

My firstborn turns 13 today.

A watershed event.

The last of “The Gerber Gang” becomes a teen. The Gang was our very first playgroup. Six babies (3 girls, 3 boys), all born within 6 weeks of each other. My guy was the youngest of The Gang, and now they’re all teenagers.

Lots of things have changed since days of The Gang. No more strollers, no more diapers.

Some things remain the same, however, despite the passage of time and the achievements of milestones.

My boy still loves to read.

I’m proud of him for a lot of reasons, but being a lover of books is on the top 10 list, for sure.

He still loves animals. 

Baseball remains his all-consuming passion. He’s always been reliable at the plate, and this past summer during All Stars was known as “The Doubles Machine.” He knows how to keep the line moving.

Little League has been a constant every year since he was old enough to play. 

His very first season, as a kindergartener, was the start of some exciting time spent at the ballpark.

This is his last season of Little League. While it won’t be the end of baseball for him, there’s something special about Little League, and the innocence and purity of the game up to the age of 12.

 

He’s a Red Sox fan to the core.

A proud member of Red Sox Nation practically since birth. He even wore his favorite Nomar jersey on the first day of kindergarten.

He loves his junk food!

And he does not like to try new foods!

He loves the beach.

He’s still not a fan of dressing up, and his idea of formal wear is shorts and a polo.

He still refuses to wear long pants, even when it’s cold (well, cold for Texas, anyway).

He’s not a big fan of smiling for the camera, either.

But sometimes he slips up and flashes a little grin.

His eyelashes have always gone on for days.

And his smile has always grabbed me by the heart-strings. 

Happy birthday, Pal. You’re not too old for your mama to give you a hug & a kiss!


Good news for Ells

A mere 5 days ago, baseball was dead to me.

The season was over before it even really got started.

My favorite player suffered a nasty injury as his shoulder was crushed by the Rays’ Reid Brignac. Speculation ran rampant that the hottie center fielder would be out for the season.redsox.com

Brignac had dislocated Ells’s shoulder, causing my favorite player a lot of pain. Shame on you, Brignac.

According to the ESPN article, “A minor dislocation typically requires a minimum of four to six weeks, but if further evaluation reveals additional trauma to the shoulder, such as tears to the rotator cuff, labrum or other muscle or tendons, Ellsbury could be in jeopardy of missing months more.”

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine had no info on Ellsbury’s condition after the Sox-Rays game, saying only that he expected another outfielder to arrive in Boston on Saturday. Raise your hand if you’re surprised that Bobby V didn’t have a clue. Raise your other hand if you think that moron has a chance in hell of being able to find his brain with both hands. Bring back Tito! For the love of all things holy in the great sport of baseball, bring back Tito!

As Sox blogger Dan Lamothe says, “We’re on the cusp of a year that will be filled with more annoying drama than your average Adele song, and there’s nothing we can do to about it. At the center of this, of course, will be the transition from Terry Francona to Bobby Valentine.”

Amen.

After reading about Ells’s injury and DB Valentine‘s lack of info on this time-stopping, all-important topic, I hung my head, dried my tears, and channeled Doris Kearns Goodwin with thoughts of “Wait ’til next year.”

Alas, there is good news for fans of Ells: Orthopedic surgeon Lewis Yocum reviewed Ells’s MRI results and agreed with Sox docs that the injury is treatable and won’t require surgery.

Hopefully we’ll soon be seeing less of thisthe bleacher report

and more of this

and this

and this

That Ellsbury won’t be out for long is the best news I’ve heard in a while. Come on, Ells! Heal fast, ok? The game isn’t the same without you.


This may get me in trouble

I’ll probably get in trouble for this. Or at least be on the receiving end of a cacophony of “You shouldn’t have done that” and “Did you have to?” and “That really wasn’t necessary.” But that’s ok; I rather like living my life on the edge. I’ve been known to stir the pot, to not let sleeping dogs lie, and to eschew the leaving of well enough alone.

So here I go.

This post is all about Ed.

He’s going to hate it.

See, Ed is not one for calling a lot of attention to himself. Or any attention, really. But sometimes, like ripping off a Band-Aid, it’s gotta be done.

He deserves it. It’s his birthday, so today it will be all about him.

Ed’s been our best family friend for a long, long time. In fact, it’s been so long, he’s dropped the “friend” and moved right on into “family.” Sometimes family has nothing to do with blood and genes and trees, and everything to do with the contents of one’s hearts and the meshing of like-minded souls. Assuming souls have minds, that is. I don’t think they operate on auto-pilot, do they?

I met Ed while toiling away in the publishing biz many moons ago in Austin. He and Trevor were in grad school at UT (Hook ‘Em!) at the same time, but we didn’t know each other during school; he was reading thick, musty books in the history department while Trevor built up his brain and hung with the geek squad in the computer science world. I hate to think of the years we wasted not knowing each other during that time, but our livers certainly breathe a sigh of relief. There was a fair bit of drinking going on in those days (as opposed to now, when kids’ schedules, middle age, and the threat of recurring cancer tempers my tippling). We did make up for some lost time, though, once we met; happy hours at Trudy’s with multiple Mexican Martinis and extra olives, watermelon margaritas at Maneul’s on South Congress, beers on the roof deck at Waterloo Ice House; and the infamous wine tasting club run by our resident oenophile Anthony King. I hope I never forget the carefree youthful nights spent lifting a glass, enjoying our youth & freedom. None of us will ever forget Trevor puking in the rose bushes at one of the Hess brothers’ houses, then coming back for more. Good times.

But back to work…Ed wrote and I edited. His hair was long back then (mine was too), and he labored over every word, every sentence, every TEKS standard (see how far we go back — long before the TAKS and now the STAR state standardized tests for public schools). I learned real quick that he was smart. Really smart. And he really cared about his work. He had such a high standard for himself that sometimes, just once in a while and not really very often (!), he made me wait for his work. I really don’t like waiting.

See, there was a progression to creation of a textbook, and we were both cogs in the wheel. Schedules were made, which we had to follow. Deadlines were enforced, because if our book wasn’t ready to go to print–back in the day before e-books and widespread Internet use — another publisher would get our spot and the book would be delayed. And we would all be fired. So I learned pretty quick with Ed that some tough love was necessary. I schooled him in the “good enough is good enough” principle that editors must embrace in order to keep the line moving. Oh, how that boy labored over every word, every sentence, every standard. There were days when I was a hair’s breath away from snatching the copy right out of his hands so that I could get my red pen all over it and keep the line moving.

It’s probably no surprise that Ed left publishing and took a rather circuitous route to teaching. A heart-wrenching detour to care for an ailing parent, work for an educational non-profit that trained teachers, a foray into self-employment in the handyman biz, a little time off to determine the color of his parachute (tricky when you’re a little bit color-blind), and finally, he was home.

Ed has a job that not many people would take on: he teaches kids who’ve been sent to the alternative school. Reasons for being sent there vary from fighting to drug use to crimes both petty and serious. The classes are small in number but large in ramifications. Several years ago, when Ed was contemplating whether to enter the teaching profession, I told him that he would be the kind of teacher who made a difference in kids’ lives. It sounds hokey but it’s true: he’s the sort of teacher who kids will remember always, and they’ll look back and say, “Man, Mr C really cared.” It’s true, and he does. He guides kids that a lot of people would cast aside as lost causes. He listens and becomes the sole person who cares. It’s no surprise to me that kids who pass through his class come back to visit, bring him a homemade Christmas treat, and mail him an invitation to their graduation ceremonies.

Those kids are not the only people who benefit from Ed’s unique brand of caring. After enduring the rigors and heartache of watching his dad die of pancreatic cancer, he became my sherpa when my mom got sick. I’ll always remember him telling me that if I thought it was bad now, it was gonna get worse. A lot worse. He was right. It was awful.

My mom knew Ed well, and when she moved in with me after retiring and moving away from Houston, it was Ed — not me — who she wanted as her caregiver for the icky parts of her cancer battle. She wanted him to sit through the class at MD Anderson on how to care for a PICC line, not me. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was trying to shield me from the routine horrors that make up a cancer patient’s life. When she was too frail and weak to step into my deep bathtub, it was Ed she asked for help. She would rather have had him see her in that state, to spare me from the eternal impression of being able to count each rib in her battle-weary, wasted body. It was Ed who she requested, not me. He made many food runs in the maddening game of “What can we get her to eat?” only to see her take 2 bites and be done. So much for that. But he never got frustrated, he never pressured her to eat. It was Ed who bore the brunt of the fallout from her radiated bowels. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for such service, but that’s just the kind of person he is. My mom knew it, and so do I. Ed’s the kind of guy who sets up the ladder and willingly allows grafitti in his garage. No project is too big, no mess too messy.

He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t freak when a little kid pukes on his brand-new couch, which Macy (right) did just after this photo was taken at Ed’s house in DC.

He’s the kind of guy who gives a little kid his watch to wear while patience runs short and naptime runs on by during sight-seeing in DC. He knows how to make a little kid feel like the most important person in the world. 

He knows how to keep a little kid quiet during a long, boring grad-school graduation ceremony, and he thinks anytime is the right time for a junky snack.

He digs the deepest sand-pit every year at Salisbury Beach every year, even when he’d rather be reading his book, and waves off the old-man critics who pass by and warn of the pit’s collapse and threat of said pit swallowing little kids whole. He knows what he’s doing.

He’s the creator of Halloween costumes too far-out for my brain to imagine.

He knew Maddy, the best dog on Earth. Ever. In the history of dogs. He loved her with his whole heart, and finally gave in to my years-long pestering that he needed a dog of his own. Not once, but twice. And he let my kids name both dogs. Hence, a female chocolate lab named Snoopy, and a wily basenji-mix named Sugar.

We have Ed to thank for the Red Sox fever that exists in our lives. A native Mass-hole, Ed is a Sox fan for life, and he taught Payton the joys and heartbreak that is Red Sox nation. When Payton was four years old, at his first trip to Fenway, Ed showed his devious side when he made Pay think that Nomar Garciaparra hit a foul ball right into Payton’s lap. Eight years later, I think Pay still believes it really happened.

When Macy came along, a new bond was forged, and the strength of that bond sometimes startles and always amazes me. Mrs Dally, Macy’s first-grade teacher, told me in confidence one day that I might want to be careful because Macy told the class, during an exercise about friends, that her best friend is a 42-year-old man. In the case of anyone but Ed, this might raise a few eyebrows. But spend two minutes with him and you get it. In third grade, Macy filled out the “getting to know you” questionnaire from the teacher on the first day of school. For the question about  her best friend’s favorite activity, Macy wrote: landscaping. Those two are tight. 

Happy birthday, Ed. May the day be as fantastic, wonderful, and all-out-awesome as you are.


Walk-off

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It’s a great morning at the beach. The Sox won last night with a walk-off hit by my favorite player, Jacoby Ellsbury. Hopefully the photo will load; I’m blogging beachside again and don’t want to interrupt my blissful morning to post on a real computer; if my iPhone and the WordPress app can’t handle the photo, I’ll get to it later. Maybe when a cloud passes overhead.

It’s unusually clear today, enough to see the Isle of Shoals. The sun is shining and the west wind is blowing. I’m pre-hydrating with a water course so I’ll be fully prepared for the beachside beverages, whenever they may appear. While the lure of the Bloody Mary is strong, I’m going to stay strong and wait for the pm bevvie.

Meantime, all hail Jacoby!


LL mom gone wild

Having just returned from the State Championship and spent the vast majority of the summer involved in Little League baseball, this story caught my eye.

Seems a Long Island, NY, Little League mom had a bone to pick with her son’s coach when her little darling wasn’t chosen to play on the All Star team. Instead of accepting the coach’s decision to leave her 11-year-old son off the roster, Janet Chiauzzi, age 44, went nuts and threatened him and his family, including his son (who I assume is her son’s peer). She also wrote to the school principal and accused the baseball coach of indecent behaviour toward the boys on the team.

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Here’s the note she sent to the coach’s son:

“Tell your stupid father to back away from the East Meadow baseball team or he will be sorry. There are other things in life than baseball and if he wants to enjoy them he will get out of East Meadow baseball for good. Accidents happen and I would hate to see something happen to your mom or dad or sister because of your dad’s stupidity… think about it, if something terrible happens to your dad or mom or sister you can blame your dad for not taking my threat seriously. He will be harmed and the outcome will not be good for you. You might never see your dad again. You all better watch your fucking backs. This is no joke. This is as real as it gets.”

Wow. That is some crazy stuff. Way to go, Mom. Outstanding job setting a good example of how to receive bad news, take the high road, and get on with life. Granted, All Stars is a big deal. As I’ve said before, we plan our entire summer around Payton making the team and the team winning district and sectionals and going to the State Championship.

All that over Little League baseball. Man, I shudder to think what might happen if Chiauzzi’s kid is turned down at a job interview. She has been charged with four counts of stalking, two counts of falsely reporting an incident, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and four counts of aggravated harassment.

Listen, overbearing parents are nothing new in youth sports. It’s a tale as old as time. Some of the greatest athletes in the sports world had obnoxious parents. Poor Mickey Mantle, one of baseballs’ greats, reportedly wet his bed until he was 16 years old because of the emotional stress of his dad’s expectations of him. Tennis Hall of Famer Andre Agassi admitted he hated tennis because of his dad’s overzealousness. He’s the only male singles player to have won all four Grand Slams on three different court surfaces (grass, clay, and hard-courts) but hated every minute of it, because his dad was a jerk.

According to Andre’s autobiography, Open, his father Mike Agassi “banged on the fences with a hammer during Andre’s matches when his son lost a point, screamed at officials and was ejected more than once.”

In all my time logged in the bleachers, I’ve seen some bad behaviour from the players’ parents, usually the dads. Never once have I seen verbal abuse help a kid turn his game around. In fact, it usually has the exact opposite effect.

In Open, Andre tells the story of his father making him play a match for money against football legend Jim Brown in 1979, when Agassi was just 9 years old in his hometown of Las Vegas. When Brown complained about the cancellation of a match he was due to play for money, Agassi’s father suggested that Brown play Andre and put up his house for the wager. Brown countered with a $10,000 bet instead. Andre won easily, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, and said he was relieved that his family’s life savings were no longer riding on him. He was 9 years old. 9 years old.

Crazy parents have no place in youth sports, yet there they are. Perhaps the most famous case of crazy parents in youth sports is the Texas Cheerleader Mom, Wanda Holloway. In 1991 Wanda solicited a hit man to off the mother of a rival cheerleader,  hoping the girl would be so bereaved that her own daughter would score a spot on the middle-school cheerleading squad. 

The story captivated the nation and spawned two made-for-TV movies and landed Wanda on the cover of People magazine.

Holloway was convicted of solicitation of capital murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned because a juror was on probation. Rather than face a second trial, Holloway pleaded no contest, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. She served only 6 months of the sentence and was released on March 1, 1997. I wonder if her daughter still speaks to her.

Thomas Junta, aka “the Hockey Dad” must have watched the two movies about Wanda Holloway and got some ideas of his own. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after an incident at his 10-year-old’s hockey practice in July 2000. Apparently Junta was complaining to the coach, Michael Costin, that practice was too rough. Costin replied that hockey is supposed to be rough. That must have enraged Junta, because he attacked Costin and beat him mercilessly in front of the kids. The 156-pound coach had no chance against the 275-pound Junta, and died from a ruptured artery in his neck. Junta was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Too bad Costin’s hockey team didn’t have a Statement Concerning Spectator Behavior, aka Ground Rule #18, like we do in our Little League. This rule was read over the PA system at the games this past weekend, and the text of the rules appears in the programs sold at the games:

“Any person who publicly criticizes the umpires, tournament officials, opposing players or coaches will be asked to immediately leave the complex and will be barred from the complex for the remainder of the tournament. Tournament officials will ask that all players be placed in their respective dugout and play will be stopped until the offender leaves the complex….We will insist that the focus of the game remain on the kids. Please do not embarrass yourself, family and team by violating the Ground Rules as stated and approved by your District Administrator.”

When I heard the rule read aloud, I chuckled to myself and thought it was a bit of overkill. Reflecting upon people like the Long Island Little League mom, the Texas Cheerleader Murder mom, and the hockey dad, however, I get it, and I chuckle no more.

The stakes are high at the State Championship, and every parent there wanted their kid’s team to win. After missing the entire thing last year, I really wanted my kid’s team to win. But I’m happy to report that I did not embarrass myself, my family, or my kid’s team by violating the Ground Rules. I sure wish the Long Island Little League mom had been guided by our Ground Rules. Talk about embarrassing your kid. Sheesh.


It’s all over except the crying

It pains me to report such bad news. Real pain, and seriously bad news.

I’m guessing you can see where this is going.

The mighty Red Raiders went down in flames last night inthe State Championship in the great garden spot of Tyler Texas. I’ve been so busy sweating my fool head off in the 100-plus-degree heat and swilling beer after the games that I haven’t had much time to comment, and the news has not been fit to print. Yes, I know it’s a huge honor to even make it this far. Yes, I know the boys have a lot to be proud of. Yes, I know there are lots of teams in our district who would have happily come to Tyler, even if it meant going home with a loss. I get it. But I’m still disappointed.

I’m proud, but disappointed.

This team did make history in our neck of the woods. These boys were the first team in First Colony’s 25-year history to go to State two years in a row. That’s big. We have a competitive league, full of parents with the time and money to provide the kids with private lessons and coaching. We have several former pro ball players who coach and whose kids have grown up in the league. We have a whole lot of smart and dedicated parents serving on the league board, managing teams, running the fields, and cheering from the stands. So for this group of 11 boys to achieve such a back-to-back feat is worthy of notice.

But I’m still disappointed.

We dedicate our summer to baseball around here. We plan our vacation to Salisbury Beach around the potential of playing–and staying–in Tyler. For the duration of the tournament. But alas, this wasn’t our year. It was a great run, but it ended too soon. The same 4 teams from last year faced off this year, and our boys just didn’t have it. Scoring just 2 runs total in 2 games doesn’t cut it. Last night we were scoreless going into the 6th inning. Literally 0 to 0. We were starting to think about the possibility of extra innings, and wondering how much longer we would swelter in the vicious Tyler sun. Unfortunately, their bats came alive at the end of the game and ours didn’t. Landing in the losers’ bracket right off the bat is foreign territory for us. None of us–players or parents–likes it, but there are lessons to be learned from loss. Like how to be a good sport when what you really want to do is cry or cuss. Like holding your head high in the midst of crushing disappointment. Like the self-control required when facing frustration. Like the strength of character needed to dig deep and battle hard. 

Sounds a lot like the lessons I’ve learned this past year in facing cancer. 

The best team doesn’t always win in baseball. It’s a cruel fact. In baseball, and in life.


Tyler, day 1

We arrived in Tyler safe & sound yesterday, just in time to have dinner with a couple of families from the team at Chili’s. Payton & I had lunch at Chili’s while we waited for Trevor to wrap up some business before hitting the road, so it was deja vu at dinner. I did not get my baby back ribs, as I eschew all foods from the mammalian category, but I did rock out on some guacamole and a cold Dos Equis.

Dawn broke clear, bright, and hot on Tyler, TX today–it’s currently 103 degrees. Gotta love July in the great state of Texas. Certain members of my family laughed at me for toting my Keurig coffeemaker all the way to Tyler, but as we enjoyed robust & delicious coffee in the room first thing this morning, there were no snickers from the peanut gallery. I have been pondering today the beauty that lies in having kids old enough to mainly fend for themselves. As Payton roamed the hotel with teammates, room key & iPhone safely tucked in his pocket, Macy and her two darling friends Mallory and Maddy swam in the pool with minimal supervision. I read my book while inhaling copious amount of chlorine fumes from the indoor pool and recollected on the events at this time last year.

I was not in the garden spot of Tyler TX in this great state’s piney woods, festively observing my firstborn’s maiden voyage of State Championship baseball. I was not languidly enjoying the comfy offerings of the Tyler Marriott, nor partaking of the fellowship of this fine team’s families. No, I was stuck in a hospital bed at the Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, enduring another round of battles vs the wily and energetic post-mastectomy infection. I was unlucky in that sense, but very fortunate indeed in that I had the intrepid Dr S caring for me all weekend, and my partner in crime Amy Hoover looking after me in the hospital. At this time last year, I was recovering from a nasty procedure to excise the infected tissue from my hollowed-out chest wall, along with an epic battle vs the morphine and barfiness that accompanied my formerly favorite pain reliever.

It was the beginning of a long and ugly stretch of history involving a lot of narcotics, a wound vacuum, and seemingly endless struggle. It did not involve watching my favorite boy do that thing he does best alongside the upper echelon of 10-year-old All Star baseball teams.

This time last year, I was going through a particularly challenging version of hell. Receiving a cancer diagnosis at the tender age of 40, with two children aged 8 and 10 and long memories of losing my sweet mama to the big C, was bad. Really bad. But I confronted the beast and did all the right things–schedule and endure all the testing, make the hard decisions, go through the surgery, and face the long, painful recovery. Being slapped with a nosocomial infection added insult to injury, for sure. Being slapped with a difficult-to-diagnose nosocomial infection was even worse, but missing Payton’s trip to the State Championship was the worst part of all.

All of that is behind us now, and I am here. “Here” in the sense of being present, and “here” in the sense of soaking up every second of the experience. Last year I was a distant spectator, following along with the games in a narcotic-induced haze. I was a long way from present, physically and psychologically. This year is a whole new ball game. I’m here, and I’m present in every sense of the word. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and there’s a lot of pressure on our team, but it’s all good. Last year the stakes were high: the boys wore their pink wrist bands in honor of me, and they wanted to win it all. Coming home with 2nd place was an honor to most but considered a failure to my kid. Seeing him walk through the door of my hospital room the day after they lost the championship was sweet for him and for me, but I could feel the weight of his disappointment. He wanted to bring the title home, and storm the hospital bathed in pride. Last summer was hard for all of us. Games were played, battles were fought, and lessons were learned.

This summer it’s all good.


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