Thursday, May 29, 2008

10-0

About the fourth inning of this long, miserable game we insisted playing in the cold rain, one of the parents sidled up and said, "Enough of this crap about having fun and not worrying about the score. Can we just win and go home?" Which, somewhat miraculously, we did.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

9-0

The team won again. Or so I'm told. I had a meeting tonight for a board I'm on, most of it normal stuff for which my presence doesn't amount to a bucket of warm spit, but it was also the night to review the annual audit and it wouldn't be right to skip that.

Coach P. was thoughtful enough to text message me during the meeting to give me an update. I'm sure my colleagues had trouble figuring out why I was so excited about the auditor's amortization recommendations. Not that they weren't thrilling on their own.

With two weeks left of school the kids are walking wounded. With no energy, no focus, they're staggering toward the end of the year much the way I'm staggering toward retirement. The difference, of course, is they have a realistic chance of achieving their goal.

The end of the school year also means field trip season's in full gear. Today the youngest and his class toured the state capitol.

He's been there before. A few years ago my friend R. and I took our kids there on President's Day. Why it seemed a good idea to spend a holiday this way escapes me now. Neither of our wives offered to join us, which should have been a hint.

I've had the fortune, good or bad, to spend some time at the capitol over the years and I gave them a brief introduction to the place, mainly a quick visit to the ornate cafeteria for snacks. Then we found one of the professional historians who works there. When he saw six boys and two dads he offered to give us an individualized tour, to the great relief of the others waiting in line.

And a fine tour it was, as these things go. Lots of historical trivia, a chance to look down on the Senate and House floors, gossip about long-dead governors. Plenty of geeky bliss. Later, as R. and I led the boys out of the capitol to the pizza place we'd promised them for lunch, my middle son said, "Thanks for wasting three hours of my life, Dad." The other boys nodded their agreement.

So one can only imagine my glee when I heard my youngest was reprising the trip today.

"I'll go as a chaperon," I told him excitedly over my morning coffee.

"It's too late. They've already picked them all."

"That's funny. I don't remember seeing the volunteer sheet."

He looked innocently over my right shoulder.

"You threw it out, didn't you?" I demanded.

"I might have lost it," he said.

"That's alright, I'll just meet you down there," I said.

My son started to look worried. "You can't," he said.

"Sure I can," I said. "It's a public building. In fact, this will be a great chance for your classmates to learn about restraining orders and the first amendment."

"Please stop."

"I can even wear a costume. That'll really enhance the learning experience."

"Stop."

"You know who I really admire? Sacajawea. I think I have some buckskin and feathers downstairs. I'll change after breakfast."

"Stop."

"Hey buddy," I said, ruffling his hair. "This is going to be more fun than the last time we toured the capitol."

"That sucked," he said.

"I know, I had fun too," I replied.

The Lovely Bride walked in. "What did you do now?" she asked me, eyeing her suspiciously depressed son.

"We're going on a field trip," I said.

"You're going to work," she said.

"Really?" asked my son.

"Yes," she said.

"Spoilsport," I told her.

Pretty Much The Only Reason I Haven't Cancelled My Subscription

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gone Fishin'

My friend R.'s family went to his cabin without him this weekend. His wife calls it a respite. He calls it a banishment. Whatever. It makes them both happy.

"You should come over," he said.

"Yes I should," I said.

I told the Lovely Bride I'd be spending the night at R.'s house. He lives on the other side of town.

"Aren't you a little old for a sleepover?" she asked.

"You don't want me to drive after I've been drinking," I replied, reasonably enough.

"You don't have to drink," she responded, unreasonably.

"But his family's gone," I whined.

"Oh fine. Don't forget your toothbrush."

I got there shortly after lunch. His car was already packed with fishing gear. I threw my stuff in the back after first standing in his kitchen for a minute to enjoy the child free atmosphere.

"It's so quiet. It's beautiful," I said.

"I know," said R. "I'm going to cry."

R. lives in a first ring suburb and we're fortunate to have any number of lakes scattered around the metropolitan area. He has a friend who lives close enough to some of them that he can walk to the dock with a small boat and an electric motor. A generous sort, his friend had offered to lend us the boat and after a little small talk we set sail.

Years ago, when we were single and roommates, R. and I used to fish these lakes with some regularity. It's possible to catch a record fish in the shadow of downtown while watching clots of bicyclists, rollerbladers, and joggers. It's also possible to follow a few canals and catch equally big fish on a lake bookended by a nude beach and some of the most expensive homes in the state.

When the Lovely Bride and I were on our honeymoon,W., an Army buddy of mine came from out of town to dog sit for us. R. and another friend took him out fishing on one of these lakes, in a canoe with a folding chair in the middle, the Cleopatra seat. W. hates fishing, so that was the day R. hauled fifteen pounds of teeth and rage into the boat, where he subdued it by hitting it with a folding chair. W. still talks about the "goddamn sea monster" that tried to kill him.

So the fish are out there. As if that means anything. It's also possible to spend three hours puttering around these lakes with nothing to show for it but empty beer cans and full bladders and that's exactly what we did this weekend.

We walked the boat back to his friend and returned to R.'s still blessedly child free home, fishless but comforted by a couple bottles of decent Argentinian wine. R. threw together a more than serviceable chicken tagine and after we ate we watched "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" and "Sweeney Todd" and cracked a bottle of bourbon and it turned out to be a good thing I didn't have to drive home after all. In the morning we had eggs and toast and sausage gravy and tomato juice and coffee.

When I walked in the door unshaven and manly, the Lovely Bride, my mother,and my oldest son were at the kitchen table. "You had a sleepover at R.'s?" my mother asked. "Aren't you a little old for that?" She's known R. for thirty years and has only slightly more faith in his judgment than she does in mine.

"He's home alive," said the Lovely Bride.

"Yay," said my son without much enthusiasm.

"Did you have fun?" asked the Lovely Bride in a tone suspiciously like the one she uses with our children after their sleepovers.

"I'm home alive," I said.

"Yay," repeated my son without any more enthusiasm.

"Do you know how much I used to worry about you and R.?" asked my mother.

"No more than I do," said the Lovely Bride.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

8-0

What a bunch of head cases we have on this team. One kid, mine, pitches a perfectly acceptable two innings, then suffers unspeakable trauma because his outing wasn't up to his own standards. Another, Coach P.'s, throws a bullet from the outfield to the catcher and then blames himself when the ball gets dropped.

Needless to say I didn't bother to console my own son, nor Coach P. his. I talked to his boy and he to mine. All was finally well, but Lord.

Meanwhile our happy go lucky goofball gets us out of three innings with three beautiful catches. The ball went up, we held our breath, and what the hell, another out. Don't know where it came from. Don't know that I care.

Not to suggest it was a normal evening at the ballpark. My middle son was there, primarily so he could talk to the team mother who happens to be a family therapist.

"My dad's a jerk," I heard him tell her between innings.

"Why don't you tell me about it?" she suggested.

"Son, we have an agreement," I said. "You take that stuff and cram it right back down inside you and pretend it never happened. Then late at night you stare at the ceiling and cry. Otherwise I don't pay for golf."

"Yes, daddy," he said.

"Good boy," I told him.

"I'm a good boy," he said, clapping his hands and giggling. He's twelve.

"See, no problem," I told the therapist.

She rolled her eyes and I went back to coaching first base. Just in time, it turned out, to congratulate the youngest kid on the team for earning a walk. A nice boy, but very serious.

"Was ist dies?" I asked him after giving him a high five.

"Huh?" he asked quizzically.

"Sprechen Sie Deutsches?" I said.

"What are you talking about?" he demanded.

"¿Habla EspaƱol?" I said, switching gears.

"You're crazy," he said.

No kidding.

Overall it's been a good week. Coach P. got picked to manage the All Star team, the one that gets to play districts when the season's over, and then, if we're good enough, for the state championship. If my kid makes the team, I've got a shot at being the assistant. That would mean a full month of baseball in July, day after day of practice and games with kids who want to be there, who aren't capable of going less than full throttle.

After tonight I'd like that. One player, angry about playing first base instead of getting to pitch, turned his back on a play and strolled over to cover the base, where he finally caught the ball a few seconds to late. He'll be spending some extra time with the coaches at the next practice for that one.

Win or lose, it doesn't matter so much. But try, damn it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

7-0

Something happened this weekend at practice. Maybe it was the Zip-N-Hit we let the team use. Maybe it was the hundreds of fly balls we hit to them. Maybe it was just a flash in the pan and we'll never see it again. Tonight, though, everything came together.

It started early. We were home team and the first play of the game the other team hit a sharp ground ball past the third baseman. The left fielder scooped it up and threw it all the way to first for the out. Two more batters and the inning was over.

We got up to the plate and guys who've been bailing out every time the pitcher even considered throwing started hitting. And not just hitting. Line drives, sprayed all over the field. The mother of one player, a kid who's had some problems at the plate, sighed ruefully that her husband was working late and missed his son single his first two times at bat. Dad showed up and the boy hit a double, looking back at the bench with a smile you could have seen from the moon.

The games are only six innings long and during the bottom of the fifth, things well in hand, I found myself talking to one of the moms about Texas football and college softball and, of course, her child and how much he loves baseball. He hustles as much as anyone on the team but we've worried about his arm and hadn't let him pitch yet.

"Would he like to try pitching one of these days?" I asked her.

"He'd love it, whenever you and Coach P. think he's ready," she replied.

I walked over to Coach P. to tell him.

"Well then, let's put him in for the last inning," he said. He studied the line up and his brow furrowed. "Crap, we can't. He's scheduled to sit and everybody else has already been on the bench for an inning."

"What's going on?" asked the boy who'd thrown out the runner on the first play of the game.

"Nothing. Don't worry about it."

"Coach, I'll sit another inning if you want to let him throw," the boy offered.

"Really?" Coach P. asked.

"Sure."

So that's what happened. One boy, a kid who loves to play, sat out an extra inning so his teammate could pitch. And pitch he did, a perfect inning helped along by a couple nice plays in the infield.

When the first baseman caught the ball for the last out of the game, the pitcher grinned and the rest of the team shook his hand and he said, "That's the best I've ever pitched" and his mother beamed and clapped. And I told the father of the kid who volunteered to take the bench what happened and said "You should be proud of your son" and he beamed too and I watched and thought, We're getting somewhere.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Locked In

This weekend was a perfect example of the cosmopolitan, glamorous lifestyle that's the norm around the Snag household.

Friday night we jetted off to a neighborhood church great hall for a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our local Little League. A dazzling line up of celebrities was present, including coaches, area politicians, and, of course, past and present League board members. When the League treasurer from 1963 slowly made her way to the front of the room to accept a plaque, I whispered to the current treasurer that she was looking at a vision of herself in forty-five years.

"Bite me," she replied.

The excitement didn't ebb a bit as Saturday rolled around. First was a whirlwind trip across town for a scoreless game one of a soccer tournament.

After that, it was a mad dash back to the neighborhood for more anniversary festivities, where I had the rare pleasure of managing a fly ball catching contest. Have you ever seen someone eat a cheeseburger while dodging errant throws from nine year olds? Judging by the expression on the faces of those who were watching me, it's apparently quite amusing.

Once that ended, there was barely time to drop the youngest at the golf course before the triumphant return for yet another scoreless soccer game, with the added advantage of cold, thirty mile per hour winds.

Coupled, as usual, with a barely restrained tirade about the cost of everything, prompted this time by my middle son's complaint on the way to the soccer game that I'd paid for his brother's golf.

"Don't you dare start whining. It's $17 in gas to drive back and forth to your tournament."

He sighed while I worked myself into a lather.

"Would you like to see what I bought for myself with the money I made last week? Nothing. That's what Dad gets, a whole lot of nothing. But that's just fine, I don't need anything. I don't need to have fun. As long as my kids are happy, then life's perfect."

By that evening, when I went to pick up my youngest at a friend's house I was more than ready to accept his offer of a drink. We sat on his porch until, sensing our contentment, the boys felt compelled to ruin it.

"Let's play trivia," they demanded.

"Alright," I said. "Why don't you guess whether you're irritating me?"

"You're being dumb. Ask us another question."

"You're right, that one was too easy. I've got another. What was the impact of New England's natural environment on the development of Transcendentalism?"

"You're still being dumb."

"I've got one," said my friend. "Who threw a perfect game in the World Series?"

"Don Larsen!" they shouted in unison.

"You're just encouraging them," I told my friend.

"Yeah, but if they're out here my wife will leave us alone," he said.

With all this happy family time, I was in no mood for my mother's suggestion during her regular Sunday morning visit the next day.

"It's time for us to get another photograph taken," she announced. "Your family, your sister's, and me."

"You're joking, right?" I said. "It's not like we've gotten better looking since the last one."

"Speak for yourself," said my oldest son.

"Besides," I continued, "you can buy picture frames with photos already in them. Or I can copy a photo of a nice looking family off the Internet."

"You're being ridiculous," my mother said.

"What's ridiculous is wanting physical evidence you're related to my children," I said.

"It's a good thing I am," she said. "Someone has to counter your bad influence."

"Anyway, you won't be able to afford the photograph by the time I'm done with you," I said.

"What are you going on about now?" she asked.

"That used car you sold us last year? Three of the automatic door locks stopped working last week. Two hundred ninety dollars each to fix them."

"I'm sorry to hear that, but what does that have to do with anything?"

"I'm going to sue you," I said. "We have a lemon law in this state."

"We are well past the time period for a lemon law claim," she said.

"Not when there's fraud involved," I told her. "I can probably get damages for pain and suffering too, seeing as how it was my own mother who cheated me."

"Is he drunk?" she asked my son. He shrugged in response.

"You know very well they were working when you bought the car. If your memory isn't working properly you can check the dealer's documentation." For reasons too dull for even me to go into, we'd handled the transaction through the dealer from whom she'd bought her new car.

"Now you're admitting collusion. Next thing I'll find out you rolled back the odometer." I pointed to my son. "Make sure you're taking notes. You'll be a witness."

She turned to her grandson. "Please have the Lovely Bride call me to schedule the photograph," she told him.

"What if he doesn't?" I asked.

"Then I shall take you out of my will."

"Hard to do when I'm your guardian," I said.

"You're not my guardian."

"Soon. I've been working on the paperwork all week."

She picked up her keys and got ready to leave. "Will you ask your mother to call me about the photograph?" she asked my son.

"Sure," he said.

"Then I won't cut you in for any of her money," I told him.

"Your father is quite unpleasant, isn't he?" my mother asked him.

"At least you get to leave," he said.

"Thank God for small favors. I will see you next week."

"And I will see you in court," I said.

She shook her head and walked to her car. A car with functioning door locks.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

6-0

Today was my youngest's birthday and what better way to celebrate than to go watch him play baseball on a warm, sunny night?

The game was fine. With decent weather, what's not to like? We scored some runs and made some plays in the field. We even got to watch one of the better players on the team round third base on his quest for what should have been a easy inside the park home run and somehow slide or trip and log roll to within a foot of the base, where the catcher caught the ball, shrugged, and tagged him out. The batter jumped up with a sheepish grin and headed for the bench, where I punched him in the shoulder and told him I didn't care how many outs he got as long as he kept hustling.

When we took the field in the fifth inning, the dad who was coaching third base for us came over.

"Hey, I just wanted to tell you something about your son," he said.

"Oh man, this is the way it usually starts when the school or the police call," I said.

He laughed. "No, really. When he was on third base last time we were batting, he was talking to the kid from the other team who was playing third. You know, the one who pitched the first two innings against us."

"He didn't call him a name, did he?" I asked.

"No."

"Please tell me he didn't spit at him."

"No, he didn't do that either. He said, 'Hey, nice job pitching.'"

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah. That was pretty cool. Then he told me a long story about the last time you made fondue. He's a funny kid."

I mentioned this to Coach P. about this after the game. The nice thing about friends is you can sometimes brag about your kids, especially when they feel the same way about their own.

Coach P. said, "When he was playing first base, every time a kid got on, your boy said, 'nice hit.'"

I've told my son I expect him to be a role model. He's at the age now where he feels like he has to be a man and he's at an age where I expect him to act like one, at least some of the time. I still catch him dancing by himself in the kitchen, though, or giggling with one of his friends in the corner of the basement. Either way, I love to watch him. He is a wonder.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

5-0

This year's cold, gray slog of a baseball season feels like the siege of Leningrad, with fewer jokes.

Tuesday night we played the Yankees, coached by a nice guy who was as excited on draft night as we were. It stopped raining shortly before game time but stayed overcast and cold until the hypothetical sun allegedly set. The adults huddled together on the side lines; they're getting to know each other and talk about the neighborhood and the school during the long delays occasioned by spotty pitching. When a parent's son comes to bat, mom or dad will pay attention for a bit, but then return to the torpor that's enveloped all of us.

Coach P. and I are struggling with it too. We help the kids with the catcher's gear, slap their hands when they score or strike out, and then resume eating sunflower seeds and muttering under our breath as another ball rolls through someone's legs into the outfield.

Although we hadn't planned on it, by the fourth inning we put my son in to pitch. Some of the kids just don't have the arm strength yet to go a full two innings and we were running out of options.

The fourth went well enough, three straight outs capped by a nice diving stop on a ground ball by my kid, who flipped it to first. It didn't matter; he was still mad at himself for going 0-3 in his previous at bats and a good outing on the mound wasn't going to change that.

In the fifth, he went back in to pitch with the game tied up. He got a strikeout and then a batter hit a gentle fly to right field and Coach P.'s son drifted under it and then, in an apparent attempt to add some drama to the night, made an unnecessary slide toward the ball. It hit his glove and rolled out and suddenly there was a runner on first. Coach P. looked at him and shook his head. He turned and walked back to the outfield, mortified.

The next batter was thrown out at first on another diving play by the pitcher, but that still left a runner on second base. Coach P. called time out and went out to talk to my kid. "This next batter's good," he said. "Throw him junk. Whatever you do, don't pitch to him."

Next pitch, down the middle for a strike. "He's ignoring me," said Coach P. to nobody in particular.

Pitch after that, down the middle for another strike. "Jesus Christ," said Coach P.

Pitch after that, down the middle, for a dribbler to the left side, where the infielder grabbed it and threw it away and now they had runners on first and third and my son was avoiding my glare.

I wandered over to where the spectators were sitting and said, "Count this game a success; the coaches' kids are both on the verge of tears." The parents who don't know us very well laughed nervously and shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

The next batter, he hit a ball up the middle and the throw came to the catcher, who grabbed it and tagged the runner, and we all turned toward the ump, a volunteer dad, and he was standing with his back to the play watching the game on the field next to ours. The silence finally got to him and he turned around, realized what had happened, and smiled weakly. We looked at the opposing coaches and they looked at us.

Their head coach said, "I don't know. Let's call it an out." He waved at his team. "C'mon guys, that's three." Everyone started running off the field.

Coach P. whispered to me, "Did you see it?"

"Not well enough to be sure."

He waved across the field. "You guys have a better angle. Was he safe or out?"

There was a pause. The third base coach cleared his throat and said, "I think he was safe."

"Good enough," said Coach P. "Guys, get back at your positions." Our team, which had made its way to the bench, gathered their equipment and went back out to finish the inning.

Next guy up got a single and there we were, two runs down. I wandered back to the spectators.

"Tonight's lesson. Good sportsmanship makes you a loser." More nervous laughs.

In the end it worked out. We scored some runs, Coach P.'s son threw a shutout half inning, and the team chalked up another win.

Afterwards we went out for ice cream, as we often do. The boys liked it, of course, they always do. I still don't have the rhythm, though, and Thursday calls for more rain.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers Day

Like Dr. Frankenstein, the Lovely Bride has created life and today was set aside to honor that. My gift to her was to sleep in until she left for the day. Unfortunately, I couldn't do the same with my the kids and I finally dragged myself to the kitchen for coffee and the newspaper.

"Hey, do I smell bacon?" I asked my oldest.

"Yes. You can't have any. It's not on your approved list of foods."

"Knock it off. Give me some."

"There's none left," he answered smugly. "I made just enough for mom."

Brat. I poured a bowl of the flax and oats he let me buy at the grocery. I wish they made bacon-flavored cereal.

The youngest came upstairs and I asked him to get me the newspaper.

"I have to do everything!" he wailed. "Why can't the middle kid do it?"

"He's not here," I said. "He's at a sleepover."

"See, you do love him more," he said.

"I let him stay away from me, so that proves I love him more?" I asked.

"There, you just admitted it," he said, looking to his oldest brother for support.

As is so often the case, a pointless argument had been ginned up solely to distract me from my original request.

"Go get the damned paper," I told him again.

"Or what?" he asked.

"Or I'll plow under your crops and salt the earth."

"I don't care."

"Or I won't let you golf today."

Sure enough, I got the paper but after paging through the meager and depressing news sections I wondered whether it had been worth the battle. Especially when I asked him to get me a roll of paper towels from the storage room and he responded by wailing, "I have to do everything!"

Before long the middle boy returned from his sleepover and he and his younger brother grabbed their clubs and left for their tee time. With nobody else home except a teenager who can't be bothered to talk to me, I enjoyed the blessed silence, achieved at the relatively small cost of two greens fees.

Most times I'm content to simply lie on the couch, watching television and wallowing in my own filth. Rarely, I get a bee in my bonnet and feel compelled toward productivity. This morning was one of those times and I backed the car out of the garage and started cleaning and rearranging. Our house was built in the days before three-car garages were common. It's a tight fit in there, with two cars, a lawnmower, a snowblower, five bicycles, tools, a variety of political signs, charcoal, air pumps, fishing gear, and gardening supplies. Not to mention seven basketballs, six footballs, two sets of golf clubs, eight soccer balls, thirty-four baseballs, four bats, twelve bases, two hockey sticks, umpire gear, all accumulated in a fruitless effort to buy the love of my children.

After a bit, my oldest took a break from planning Mothers Day dinner to check on me.

"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.

"Organizing."

"You're making it worse."

I looked around the garage. He may have been right.

"Will you give me a hand?" I asked him.

"God, you're hopeless."

He came out and got things whipped into shape just as his brothers returned from golfing. Half the things we own were strewn across the front yard and my youngest seized upon an old wagon I'd dragged out for disposal and plopped down in it.

"Look at me, I'm a baby," he said, rocking back and forth and pretending to suck his thumb.

"You're a moron," I said. A passing neighbor stared with puzzlement at the increasingly surreal scene playing out in my front yard.

"Tough acting Tinactin," he said. He's apparently been watching more television than I realized.

"He's got brain worms," I said to nobody in particular.

"He's messed up, that's for sure," said my middle son.

As if to prove the point, the wagon tipped over, dumping the youngest face first in the dirt. "Woo hoo, I win!" he yelled, pumping his fist.

I turned to the oldest. "If I take your brothers down to the park to catch fly balls, will you finish the garage?"

"Yes. Just leave," he said.

By the time I got back a few hours later, the garage was clean and dinner was in progress, a menu prepared to order for the Lovely Bride. The youngest, who'd twisted an ankle, went upstairs to soak in an Epsom Salt bath while the middle one settled down in front of "Saving Private Ryan."

After dinner I slipped twenty bucks to my oldest.

"Thanks," he said, pocketing it.

A small price for making this a good day for his mother.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

4-0

Finally it felt like baseball. The teams gathered on Friday night, ours and one from a neighboring league. We introduced ourselves to the other coaches.

"We're a little short on pitchers," said the other team's head coach. "We're missing a couple kids too. Do you mind if we play in some younger brothers?"

"We've got a sick player. He might puke on you," said Coach P. "If you can live with that, we're good." He looked over to the dugout where a mom was helping her son find his equipment. "Hey," he said. "No parents in the dugout!"

She scurried out.

"I'm just kidding," he said.

She scurried back in and gave her son a kiss on the cheek. The rest of the boys whooped and cheered.

We started strong, two shut out innings. By the fourth we had a good lead. Most games end by dark, but interleague play buys us lights and extra time.

My son had invited friends and they'd come with their parents, who were cheering when they weren't talking with friends they hadn't seen since fall. The concession stand was open and people were buying popcorn and hot dogs and soda and finally it felt like baseball.

Coach P. and I watched the game and for the first time we looked like a team. At second base a boy who'd been an object of concern hustled out for the cutout. Another kid, who'd been throwing rainbows all season gunned one from third base to catch a batter by a step.

"I've been watching him tonight. Got to say it surprised the hell out of me," said the opposing coach.

"Surprised the hell out of all of us," I said.

Going into the last inning we were up by four runs. Not bad, but even with the five run rule, not necessarily enough. First batter, a hard ground ball to shortstop, my kid knocks it down, crawls after it, and throws it from his knees to Coach P.'s boy at first, just in time to get the out. Two more outs, and we'd won another game.

My son came off the field. "I fielded that off my nut cup," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"It bounced off my nut cup and then it hit me in the chest."

"You're a moron," I said, but his teammates were slapping him on the back and he wasn't listening to me anymore.

After we shook hands and had snacks and drinks, Coach P. and I took our kids to a local bar for something to eat, and for me at least, something to drink.

The waitress stopped by to take our order and we told her about the game and finally it felt like baseball.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

3-0

I had no idea how long it takes to walk in twenty-two runs over the course of six innings.

A long goddamned time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Take 'Em To Work

One of the neighbor kids is job shadowing me tomorrow. I'd originally planned to show him what the more glamorous members of my profession do for a living but there are matters that demand my attention in the office. Lucky kid. Here's the tentative schedule.

9:3o - Pick him up. Discuss why main benefit of education is freedom to sleep in.

9:45 - Explain why screaming at other drivers is a form of yoga.

10:00 - Arrive at work.

10:05 - Ignore insults from others in office.

10:10 - Get coffee.

10:15 - Finish deleting spam.

10:30 - Return calls. Pray for voicemail instead of live person. Prayers go unanswered. Pretend to be interested in story about goiter.

11:00 - Look in desk for snacks.

11:10 - Debate nutritional merits of laab gai versus cheeseburger at lunch.

11:20 - Research nearby sushi bars.

11:30 - Leave for lunch.

1:00 - Return from lunch.

1:15 - Commence review of quarterly financials.

1:20 - Look in desk for snacks.

1:25 - Restock refrigerator with diet Coke.

1:40 - Check on number of hits received at blog. Discuss how genius is unnoticed during lifetime.

1:45 - Decide financials are adequate.

1:50 - Prepare lineup for youngest son's next baseball game.

2:10 - Check fantasy baseball stats.

2:20 - Commence work on organizational policy statement.

2:25 - Look in desk for snacks.

2:30 - Discuss how life is a series of disappointments.

2:45 - Check stock market.

2:50 - Decide financials may not be adequate.

3:00 - Turn off computer.

3:19: Arrive at wireless phone store.

3:20 - Commence argument over broken cell phone with customer service rep.

3:40 - Throw up hands in frustration and fling empty threats over shoulder.

4:00 - Arrive home.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

2-0

One hundred twenty-five dollars for the plumber to spend ten minutes fixing the leak I couldn't find. My kids insist they had nothing to do with it. Maybe. There's a first for everything.

That looked to be just another nail in the coffin of a day that was better off dead anyway. Our twenty-three hours of summer having ended, the sky clouded up in anticipation of our second baseball game of the season. By the time I loaded my youngest in the car and stopped to pick up his contribution as snack captain, there was a steady downpour.

I stood at the counter of the convenience store waiting to pay for the overpriced Rice Krispies bars. I would have bought them earlier but had to stay home to pay for the overpriced plumbing repair. A couple cops were chatting by the coffee machine.

"Hey guys," I said.

"Snag, you're not going to play ball tonight, are you?" one of them asked.

"Going to try."

"Bring your waders."

Hilarious.

I got back in the car. "What do you think?" I asked my son.

"We've played in worse," he said.

"Good man."

We reached the field and I saw the opposing coach out of his car talking to some of his players.

"Beautiful day for a ballgame," I said.

"What do you think?" he asked. "I checked the field. It looks alright."

"Looks like it's letting up," I replied. "I say we play as long as there's no lighting."

"Works for me." He waved to his team and we headed behind the school to warm up.

While the kids were playing catch, one of our players saw an acquaintance on the other team. "I'm going to tell everyone at school when we beat you," he said.

"Hey!" Coach P. barked, pulling him aside.

"What?" the player asked.

"Didn't we talk about good sportsmanship at practice?"

"I guess. Yes."

"I don't ever want to hear that kind of thing again."

"Okay Coach. I got it."

"Then use it."

As it turned out, the rain did stop. It turned into quite a nice night, in fact, a little cold when the sun began to set, but nice.

The game was ugly, though. Walks. Walks, walks, and more walks. Partly because the umpire, a volunteer dad, had an awfully tight strike zone. Partly because a lot of the kids wouldn't have hit a strike zone no matter how big it was. It took us ninety minutes to play the first three innings and there wasn't much sign things were going to improve.

"What time is it?" asked Coach P.

"Ten after hell," I said.

"Is it just me or is this a slow game?" asked a parent.

"There aren't words to describe how painful this is," I told him.

In the third inning my son let a ground ball roll through his legs at second base. It was hit hard, but still. He looked at me and shrugged in apology. The next batter he made the play on an almost identical grounder. After another eternity we got a second out. The bases were loaded, though, and I told Coach P., "If he'd made that first play, we'd be done."

Coach P. shrugged just like my son had.

"I should yell, 'We'd be out of the inning if you hadn't muffed that play.'"

Coach P. said, "It would be funnier if one of the other parents did it."

I walked over to where the parents were sitting and offered one of the team moms two dollars if she'd to do it. She gave me an appalled look.

"He's hard enough on himself already," she said.

"Not about the important things," I said.

"What's more important than baseball?" she asked.

"Good point," I said. What a great team.

Finally we headed into the bottom of the fifth with a one run lead, an inning the dwindling light guaranteed would be our last. As one of our players started warming up at pitcher, his mother drifted over.

"If you want to see a boy whose night's been made, you're looking at him," she said.

"Why's that?"

"He's been talking all spring about how much he wants to pitch. He's so excited he can't stand it."

And he did just fine. The first batter squibbed one into the dirt in front of the plate. My son, who was catching, jumped on it and threw to Coach P.'s son at first base to get the out. The next two batters walked and then the next one hit a hard line drive down the first base line.

Damn it, I thought.

"Damn it," said Coach P. and then his son bent down, made an improbable catch at his shoe tops, and stepped on first to double up the runner and end the game.

My kid took off his catchers mask, jogged over to Coach P.'s kid, slapped him on the back, and the two of them trotted off the field. The rest of us, players, parents, coaches stared in silence at the field until it sunk in, then offered our own congratulations. The teams lined up and shook hands, we had a brief team meeting, then the boys took their gloves and bats and their snacks and left for home, chattering excitedly.

Coach P. and I finished locking up the bases and umpire gear while our kids relived the game, what they'd done right and what they hadn't.

"Can we go out for ice cream?" they begged in unison as we walked to the car, back lit with purple and orange as the sun went down for the night.

Sure. We had a game to celebrate.

Monday, May 5, 2008

1-0

Opening Day has come and gone. It was as cold as I expected. At least the rain finally stopped, even if we were forced to relocate to a field with better drainage.

The league provides umpires for a few special games like this one, teenagers mostly, hoping to make a little spending money. Coach P. approached ours before the game and asked, "Can I kick some dirt on you now to get it over with?" The ump laughed nervously and backed away.

We gathered the players together before the first pitch to remind them baseball's about having fun. They're not all convinced. In fact, we heard through the grapevine there had been some trash talk behind the scenes at a recent practice, prompting Coach P. to remind the boys,"We don't badmouth our teammates. We don't badmouth our opponents, our parents, our coaches, our umpires. We don't badmouth anyone." The prime suspects avoided my glare but the message got across.

We're also still a little unsure about a few of the parents. It may be winning is important to them. It may be they don't believe it's not that important to us. Or it may be I'm worrying without any reason. We'll find out soon enough, I guess.

The game itself went well. My kid smacked a home run at his first at bat, then pitched two perfect innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced. Everyone did well for that matter, getting hits, making plays, acting more like a team than we'd expected this early.

It wasn't a textbook display by any means. The last inning in particular was a bit of an abomination, featuring some particularly Chaplinesque fielding by everyone involved, my son included. I made the mistake of asking him about it after the game.

"Dad, I mean Coach, I was paying attention, I just misjudged it, you make mistakes Dad, I mean Coach, you make lots of mistakes, remember yesterday, what Mom, I mean Coach, I mean Mom said, that was a big mistake, wasn't it, see, you're not perfect, you make mistakes too."

"I made a mistake when I had kids," I told him.

"Except me," said my oldest son.

"Shut up," said the youngest.

It never ends.

The best part of the day, though, was when our quiet, tentative player came up to bat after striking out in his first two appearances. He played for us briefly a couple years ago and while he's gotten better, he's still learning.

"Why'd you pick him?" someone asked us.

"He's shy. We wanted to make sure he didn't get lost in the shuffle," Coach P. replied.

So the boy came to plate for the last time that day. Two pitches, two swings, two misses, and then he made contact. The ball dribbled toward the infield and he hustled toward first and the pitcher bobbled it and he was safe, standing on first looking like he'd just won a prize, which I suppose he had. I gave him a high five and looked across the field to where Coach P. was dancing around like he'd just won a prize, which I suppose he had too.

When we got back to the dugout, I told him he was batting .333 for the day. "Do that in the majors and they'll pay you $15 million a year," I said.

"Really?" he asked, his eyes getting big.

"Yep," I said. "Don't forget, I get ten percent as your agent."

His brow furrowed as he did the math.

"Have a sunflower seed," I said, holding out the bag.

He grabbed a handful and sat down on the bench. A couple of the other boys stopped by to congratulate him. His mother, who was keeping the book for us, smiled to herself as she watched her son become part of the team.

A Colt .45 And A Deck Of Cards

Thank God there's BP to remind me how much I love music. You might not want to play this real loud at work.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

O Say Can You See

It's Opening Day today. The sun's forcing it's way out even though it's still cold. We should be able to get the game in.

The boys still haven't had a chance to practice much. We had a new player assigned to us too, a boy my youngest played basketball with this winter. A nice kid, athletic. He was going to play lacrosse this summer but I reminded his parents that when he's an adult, he can play baseball and drink beer at the same time. Try to do that with a helmet.

Thursday, we finally had the whole team together for a real practice. We asked everyone to introduce themselves to their new teammate. When it got to one kid, a third grader with a goofy smile, he said, "Call me 'Road Kill.'" The other boys started laughing.

I muttered to Coach P., "Any of you guys call me Francis, and I'll kill you."

He replied, "The return of Slorn."

The team looked much better at this practice. We're still nervous about the pitching and so we're doing something we don't like, starting both our sons today, having told the parents we want a better idea of who can pitch and for how long before we put someone on the mound in an actual game. We've got three more games scheduled this week so we're going to have to figure that by tomorrow's practice, but in the meantime we don't want to embarrass a kid during the first game by having him try to pitch when he can't.

For today, though, we're sticking with these pitchers. They'll be heading to the mound in a few hours and they'll give it their best shot and so will their teammates. Win or lose, we're finally playing baseball again.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

She Got Me

Okely-dokely, one word answers to describe myself. Sounds suspiciously like a police report but we'll let that pass. Here goes:

Yourself: Erratic
Your Partner: Tolerant
Your Hair: Nonexistent
Your Mother: N/A
Your Father: Ditto
Your Favorite Item: TV
Your Dream Last Night: Desperate
Your Favorite Drink: Bourbon
Your Dream Home: Distant
The Room You Are In: Slovenly
Your Fear: Longevity
Where Do You Want to be in 10 years: Urn
Who You Hung Out With Last Night: Kids
What You Are Not: President
Muffins: Okay
One of Your Wish Items: Jackpot
Time: Greenwich
Last Thing You Did: Molt
What You Are Wearing: ?
Your Favorite Weather: Drought
Your Favorite Book: Edible
Last Thing You Ate: Book
Your Mood: Temperate
Your Best Friends: Aquatic
What Are You Thinking About Right Now: N/A
Your Car: Gossamer
Your Summer: Nonexistent
What’s on your TV: Chocolate
What Is Your Weather Like: Hateful
When Was the Last Time You Laughed: N/A
What is your relationship status: Tolerated

Tag:

Mr. Middlebrow
Kathleen
Bubba