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. 

 


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!


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.

googleimages.com

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.


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.


All hail the Raiders!

They did it!

The mighty Red Raiders beat the Pearland All Stars 15-6 last night to clinch the Sectional title. Cue the music.

You know what this means, right? We’re going to Tyler.

Payton upheld all of his superstitions for this series: wearing the same pants for each game since the last win, no matter how filthy with infield dirt and grass stains; eating the same meal after each game won; following the same schedule during the day on game days. Macy and I joined in the festivities and put red streaks in our hair for the do-or-die game last night. 

Our mojo definitely worked.

Here’s the local story about last night’s glorious game. Hope you’re smiling as widely as I am after you read it.

What a sweet, sweet victory. Readers of this blog may have heard about the utterly crummy season this girl had last year, and how yours truly missed every bit of the Raiders’ victories and trip to the State Championship.

What a drag. Words fail me as I try to express just how crappy it was to miss all this last summer. I’m not sure if it’s even possible. I have tried, but I know I’ve come up short.

All throughout the All Stars series so far, part of me kept thinking, “wouldn’t it be nice if the boys won District and Sectional, and got to Tyler, again, so that I could see it this time?” But another part reminded that part that it’s not about me. It’s about the 11 boys on this team.

Lucky for me, those 11 boys came through and I WILL get to see it this time. I am one happy baseball mama.

I woke up the night before last, after our team beat the Pearland team to stay alive, thinking about the next game. All day yesterday, the day of the winner-take-all-loser-goes-home game, my thoughts kept turning to baseball. Payton was uncharacteristically nervous yesterday, and had a hard time eating his pre-game meal. Walking up to the fields yesterday, we had to pass the Pearland fans in their bleachers to get to our bleachers. There were a lot of them, and they were fired up. But when we got to our bleachers, we saw a sea of red. Folks turned out in droves to support the Raiders. Members of the 12-year-old All Star team lined the outfield fence and had 3 big flags, each with a different letter: F, C, and A for “First Colony American.” Those flags were flying even before our boys stepped onto the field.

The Raiders looked a tad bit shaky as the Pearland team came up to bat. It was 3-0 them to start, but the boys in red looked strong and confident. I knew they were going to come through, and by the 3rd inning it was 9-4 us. While anything can happen in baseball, I began to really and truly realize that we were close to clinching the coveted trip to Tyler, and that I was going to be there for it.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: watching my kid on the field is one of life’s greatest joys for me. He’s in his element, doing what he loves most in the entire world. He’s energized and engaged, he’s a gamer. Baseball is his life, and he makes the most of it. Every single game. Seeing #11 come up to bat thrills me; watching his discipline at the plate, appreciating the mechanics of his swing, and hearing him make contact with the ball all work together to fill me with happiness. Knowing that he’s experiencing success in his most beloved endeavor is parental bliss.

The game was fantastic, and last night’s victory is so, so sweet. I’m still savoring it today, exhausted though I may be from the late-night celebration. Seeing Payton on the field with his team after the game, awaiting their Sectional banner and pins from the District Commissioner was pretty great. 

Seeing the boys come together and play like champions was redemption for a crappy summer last year. That summer will go down in history as the worst one ever. This one will be remembered as the best.

 


Extra! Extra! Read all about the mighty Red Raiders

I really should have posted this last night, as soon as we got home from the game, but I had to go straight to the defibrillator after suffering several small heart attacks watching that nail-biter.

It was do-or-die for the boys in red last night, and they came out looking confident and strong. The opposing team, however, seemed to think they had victory in the bag and were goofing through warm-ups.

We were scoreless for a couple of innings with some tight defense, until Mr Slugger Mark Stanford came up to the plate with bases loaded and blasted a grand slam to put us in the lead 4-0. I think Mark’s long ball is still traveling, so if you’re in the area, heads up! We were ahead for most of the game until the 5th inning, when Pearland caught some lucky breaks with crazy hops and disgustingly erroneous officiating. Usually I’m the only parent in the stands yelling at the umpires after an egregious call, but last night the entire First Colony crowd was hollering, and on more than one occasion. Our boys overcame the umpires’ ignorance, though, and are primed for victory tonight.

The local newspaper’s coverage focused on the First Colony National 10-year-old team last night, with our team just getting a blurb, which I’ve conveniently extracted for you here. If you’re interested in the entire article, read it here.  Tonight’s game at 7 pm at West University Little League decides who goes to the State Championship next weekend. GO RAIDERS!

First Colony 11-year olds force decisive game for title

The First Colony American Red Raiders jumped to an early lead with the help of a Mark Stanford grand slam then held on for a 7-5 victory over Pearland Maroon at West University Little League Saturday night. The result sets up a winner-take-all game for the sectional title Sunday night at West University.

First Colony dropped into the loser’s bracket when it lost to Pearland in the tournament opener. It has won three in a row to get within one victory of a return trip to the state tournament.

Red Raiders’ pitcher Cody Joe Cegielski gave up one run over the first 4 2/3 innings then gave way to Stanford and Camden Kelly who closed out the game when it got close in the sixth. First Colony led, 7-1, at the end of the fifth.

Payton Hicks had two doubles and one RBI for First Colony.


Baseball blues

I’m not trying to keep ya hanging about the outcome of the game last night; I haven’t been home much today. It was not a good night for the Raiders. I wish I had better news to report, but the 13-3 thrashing by Pearland Maroon was b-a-d bad. The boys in red were off in just about every possible way, but the concession stand at West U has 25-cent snowcones, so at least Macy was happy.

Tonight it’s do or die for the boys in red. We face the All Star team from the Heights, and plan to bring our game faces.

Meanwhile, check out this guy in his spiffy white cowboy boots. 

I spied him the other day at Town Square and spent a good little while wondering who he was meeting and where he was going in those oh-so-fine kicks. It also made me think about my own pair of super-fine cowboy boots, and how much I’d love to wear my boots every single day if not for my blasted plantar fasciitis and my aching feet. Sigh.

Those black & white cowhair boots and I go way back. I bought them at a kitschy little shop on South Congress in Austin in the early days of my editorial career. I paid cash for them from my hard-earned paycheck, and I loved them dearly. Still do.

I love how there’s just enough white to set off the glossy black hide. Or hair. Or fur. Or whatever it is. Don’t tell PETA, but I love the hide/hair/fur. I’m as nutsy-kookoo for animals as always, but that poor cow was doomed anyway, so that fact that his/her hide/hair/fur ended up on a pair of boots is a part of life. If I thought for one second that that cow had a shot at living a long, bucolic life eating grass into his/her old age somewhere in the great state of Texas, I’d say thanks but no thanks on the boots. But we all know the cows around here are destined to end up on someone’s grill or smoker; this is Texas after all. Funny how I wouldn’t think of eating that cow, but wearing it doesn’t bother me one bit.

Oh well. Thinking about boots is a nice distraction from last night’s agony of defeat.