Monday, June 30, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

19-1

We won again tonight. So rumor has it. I was only there for the first fifteen minutes, then had to hustle off for a meeting. Our parents are in the groove, though, and it's not as though Coach P. doesn't have plenty of help when I'm gone.

After my meeting, on the way home, I saw a familiar car at the ice cream shop. I parked and found Coach P., his son, his wife, and another player's family sitting outside. They filled me in on the game, not a close one really, although I got to hear how my son took a step in on a fly ball that ended up over his head. A capital offense on our team, or so we've threatened. I promised to beat him.

The other player's dad started telling stories about the snakes that infest his neighborhood. I'm being polite; they infest his house, which made for increasingly bloody and delightful stories as time passed.

Out of nowhere the Lovely Bride and two of my kids appeared and joined the conversation. My wife hates snakes and she tried to focus on her cone while the rest of us talked about snakes getting caught in fans and augers and pretty much everything else you can think of.

We've got two more games left and every time I see our team another layer of the onion peels away.

18-1

They certainly bounced back. Maybe it had something to do with playing the team they'd been looking forward to facing all year, finally making up the game that had been rained out, a chance for some of them to play against their best friends, the kids they'd played with last year and the year before and the year before that. Whatever it was, they were in fine form.

We won, which is nice as far as it goes, but as we confirmed the game before, it's not everything. It was at least as much fun to hang around third base jawing with our friend E., who as coach of the opposing team got as much heckling from us as the players on his team got applause from our own players.

When it was over the kids from both teams congregated around the backstop, trading snacks and drinks. An hour later a group of us, half from our team, half from E.'s, met at a neighbor's house for our own snacks and drinks. The boys went outside with their balls and gloves and from the deck we could hear them in the alley, no adults, no winners or losers, playing catch in the growing dusk.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

17-1

One thing's for sure about this team; it doesn't do anything halfway. By the third inning we were trailing 12-0 and I walked back to talk with some of the parents.

"I'm going to go lie down in the woods over there," I told them. "Come get me when it's over."

One of the moms smiled sweetly and said, "I think they're playing very well for their first game of the season," a comment that delighted me so much I had to run back to the dugout and tell Coach P. He laughed, a sort of borderline hysteria around the edges. A couple of the kids looked at us nervously and scooted down the bench.

A few minutes later one of our players came off the field, almost in tears.

"What's going on?" I asked him.

"Nothing," he said, eyes welling up.

"Come here," I told him. We walked away from the rest of the team.

"What do you get if you win today?" I asked him.

"Nothing."

"What do you get if you lose today?"

"Nothing."

"And what do you get if you have fun today?"

"I don't know."

"You get to have fun. So go have some."

Even if he wasn't completely sold, he went back to his teammates with his head a little higher.

Coach P. and I spent the next half inning taunting each other. He told me if I hadn't sent a kid who got caught stealing second we'd still be in the game. We laughed. I told him we'd call this one Coach Snag's Game and I'd commit seppuku in front of the parents when it ended. We laughed some more.

Some of the boys finally came over to see what was so funny.

"Go away," we said, throwing sunflower seeds at them. "We're talking about coach stuff."

Meanwhile, one of the parents from the other team was doing her best to get under everyone's skin. Dressed in very tight, very short cut-offs, with big hair and a tight t-shirt, she was screaming for her son as though we were tied in the last inning of the World Series.

"Timber," she shrieked every time one of our players would come to the plate.

"Why does she keep saying that?" asked my son.

I pulled him close so the others couldn't hear. "Because she's a freaking idiot."

He nodded in understanding and I walked back to the parents. "Do you mind if I say something really mean?" I asked them.

"You mean about Barbie?" said one of the dads, gesturing across the field.

I ran back to tell Coach P. this latest and we both laughed some more.

In the bottom of the last inning we finally scored a run and our bench erupted in cheers, patting the runner on the back. Small victories. That was all we got, though, and we were soon lining up to shake hands with the other team, on the wrong end of a 21-1 score. I watched our players as they walked through the line, and while they've been happier, there weren't any tears. They all congratulated the other team and thanked the umpire, and then we gathered for the post-game talk.

"This was one of the best things that could have happened," said Coach P. "We've all been so worried about losing a game that everyone's been wound tight. Now we can have fun next week and just play some ball. This was a tough day and you handled yourself like men. Coach Snag and I are proud of you."

The boys looked at us, looked at their parents, like us smiling and proud of them, and the tension visibly drained from them. Gathering up their snacks, they started drifting toward the parking lot, the game already fading from importance and being replaced, we hope, with the lesson that teamwork and friendship and dignity matter more than any score.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

17-0

This one didn't look good. A couple of runs given up early, we come back, then my kid blows up on the mound in the third inning, lets five runs in. He comes off blinking rapidly.

"Hang in there," I tell him. "We need you again next inning."

We're at bat, bases loaded, two outs, he goes down looking. Only his fourth strikeout of the year. Blinking more rapidly now.

"Hang in there," I tell him again. "We still need you."

He looks at me, so crestfallen it almost breaks my heart.

"You were batting right into the sun, weren't you?" I ask him. He nods, afraid to say anything, knowing that excuses don't interest me.

"You're pitching now," I tell him. "Their batters are staring at the sun too."

He pauses. Thinks. Walks to the mound. Three up, three down and we're out of trouble for now, but still only up a little.

Our half of the inning, no runs in yet, a batter who's still looking for his groove, he gets a foul tip, then a foul ball, the only real contact he's made since the first game, enough to send our cheering squad into a frenzy, then a walk. Another couple runners get on, then a kid, one of the younger ones, his grandparents are there tonight, he rips a base hit to score a couple runs. Then more base runners, then one of our guys tees off for his fourth or fifth triple of the year, he still can't get his double, and we're ahead, far enough the other team can't catch up even with another inning to play.

I walk to the sidelines to talk to the kid who drove in the first two runs, he's chattering excitedly at his grandmother.

"This boy's turned into quite a ballplayer," I say. "Go ahead, buddy, tell them how much you love baseball."

"Basketball's my favorite sport," he says.

"That's fine, basketball's a great game. But you love baseball too, right?"

"Football's my second favorite," he says.

"You're killing me here," I say, as his dad laughs. "Just tell me how much you love baseball."

"It's okay."

"I'm going to leave you on the bus," I tell him. He's riding on the bus with me tomorrow night when the whole team, the whole league, goes down to watch a major league game.

"What?" he asks.

"I'm going to fill you full of hot dogs at the game and then leave you on the bus until you tell me you love baseball."

"No beer after the sixth inning," his mother says.

"For me or him?" I ask her.

"Him," she says. "Family rule. He has an early day on Saturday."

"Perfect," I say. "He's driving anyway."

"What?" he says again, in that nervous way second graders have when adults start talking crazy.

"You're a good ballplayer," I tell him again.

"Thanks," he says.

"Thank you," I tell him.

The end of our season is coming soon, another week or so. We have five games left, with a couple tough teams scattered in there. Coach P. and I are coaching an all star team this year when regular season ends. Our sons are playing, and the kid who likes to hit triples, and another boy from our team, and seven other kids from other teams we don't know as well. They're all good ballplayers, drafted after a year's worth of scouting and tryouts. They'll play in districts, and either the state tournament if they do well enough or a metro area tournament if they don't quite make it. Everyone on the all star team can catch and hit and pitch. They all seem like good kids. We have our first practice tomorrow and I guess we'll find out.

In the meantime, we are thankful.

Songs I Used To Hate - Part 3

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

16-0

With only seven games left in the regular season, it was as though we were back at the beginning of the season tonight. A death march of walks and poor fielding. The saving grace was the weather, a beautiful seventy-five degree night. As I told the dad coaching third base, "If it was raining I'd kill myself."

The players didn't have their heads in the game. They missed fly balls they'd normally catch without trying. In two consecutive innings, runners took off from second on ground balls to the left side of the infield even though there was only one out and even though it's been pounded into them all season not to do that. Only the inability of the other team to make a play saved us.

They weren't anything to write home about when they were sitting on the bench either. We run a pretty loose dugout; they're kids and they're going to screw around no matter how much we yell at them, so there's no point in yelling. I save that for my own kids at home. Tonight, though, there was a climbing tree behind the bench and the attraction proved too much for half the team. Even that wouldn't have been intolerable if one of the kids hadn't started smacking the tree with his bat.

"Aaargh!" I said. "Everybody out of the tree, put your bats away, and watch the game!"

"Have we made you cry yet this year?" Coach P. asked a kid after he climbed down.

"No."

"You're the only one then. What's it going to take?"

The boy seemed disturbingly undisturbed by the conversation. "I don't cry much," he said.

"I know," said Coach P. "Do you have a pet?"

"Yes."

"What kind?"

"I'm not going to tell you," he said, a little disturbed now.

"Does it have fur?" asked Coach P.

"Yes."

"Is it a cobra?" I asked.

"No."

"A ferret?"

"No."

"Does it have a pouch?"

"No."

"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"

"No."

Coach P. and I were rolling now.

"Is it a rhesus monkey?"

"Is it edible?"

"It's a rat, isn't it?"

"It's an alligator, right?"

Finally we narrowed it down to some sort of rodent. One of the other kids promptly and accurately guessed guinea pig.

"What's your guinea pig's name?" asked Coach P.

"Emmanuel."

"Why's that?"

"He has brown hair like Jesus."

What a freak show. I wandered away to talk to a couple other players.

"What's up guys?" I asked. Throwing sunflower seeds at them of course.

"Not much. What's the score?"

"Doesn't matter. Don't worry about it."

"Are we winning?" one of them asked.

"Of course we are," said the other. "We always win."

"Oh yeah, right," said the other.

What?

"Both of you, come with me," I barked, herding them away from the rest of the team.

"Sorry coach," they said in unison.

"We're playing three very good teams between now and Sunday. Any one of them can beat us. If we play like we are tonight, I can pretty much guarantee they'll beat us. Do not start thinking we can't lose. I promise you we can."

"Sorry coach," they said again.

Coach P. and I have talked about whether it would be better for the team to lose a game soon. Now matter how much we avoid talking about scores, the kids know and it's becoming too much of a focus for them. This kind of thing makes us wonder even more.

The next few days might answer the question for us.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

15-0

If there has ever been a finer day to play baseball, I haven't seen it. By our 10 a.m. game time, the sun was out and there was a slight breeze. Not typical this year, but nobody was complaining.

Today we were hosting a neighboring city's league. Ten games played over the course of the day on two abutting fields, good fields, the ones where this year's state championships will be held, scoreboards and announcers and concessions.

Coach P. got there early and hit fly balls to the kids from the other team who were standing around. Soon enough their coach showed up and we introduced ourselves.

"How do you want to do this today?" I asked. "We usually play prison rules."

He stared at me for a moment until Coach P. started laughing. Then he laughed too.

"This is a hell of a thing you've got going," he said. "Look at this place."

"Thanks," I said. "The city and the league work together really well." They do, and it's been a source of pride to a lot of people for a lot of years.

The announcer started calling names and we stood along the base lines with our caps over our hearts as the National Anthem played. Halfway through, a float plane came by low, heading for a nearby lake.

"Not quite the Blue Angels, but it'll do," muttered Coach P.

The game was fine. The visiting league is new and still putting together the pipeline needed to field competitive teams at this level. Our guys looked good, they got some hits and made some plays and the game was never in much doubt. Coach P. and I were able to spend our time talking with the parents and the other team's coaches and it couldn't have been better.

"I used to say I'd move north if I won the lottery," the other team's assistant coach told me during one inning. "I've changed my mind. I'd move here."

"We'd love to have you," I said.

Afterward, when we were sitting under a canopy eating hamburgers and bratwurst one of the parents from the other team walked by.

"Thanks for coming out here," I said.

"Thanks for inviting us," she said. "This was great."

"Your coaches, they're really nice guys," I told her.

"I'm not sure I agree, but that's because I'm married to one of them," she replied.

"You sound like my wife," I said. "Anyway, I hope your teams are back next year."

"Actually, we're moving over here this fall," she said.

"Well, that's great," I said, and it is. Over here we've got good fields and g00d kids and we can always use another good coach.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

14-0

In the fifth inning, one of our players crushed a long line drive to left field, the hardest ball he's hit all season. The opposing team's left fielder was staring somewhat blankly into space when the ball accidentally landed in his glove for the third out. Shaking himself out of a stupor, he stumbled toward his dugout. His teammates met him halfway, cheering for him, along with the other parents from his team.

After the game we talked to his coach.

"Nice kid," he said. "Not so good though. Hasn't had a hit all year and isn't doing much better in the field."

"That was cool the way your team cheered for him when he made that catch," said Coach P.

"Thanks," said the other coach. "I really try to get the boys to pull for each other."

"The sign of a good team," I told him. "On our team, we try to make the kids cry."

No success at that tonight, not for lack of trying. At one point one of the players told me he wished he had a Gatorade.

"Here's what you need to do," I told him. "Get a job. Make some money. Pay your taxes. Then, with the money you have left, you can buy something to drink."

"Why do I have to pay taxes?" he asked.

"Because if you don't you'll go to prison. They don't sell Gatorade there. It's not just taxes, though. It's also FICA and Medicare."

"What are you talking about?" he asked me.

"Here, come with me," I said, gesturing to him and another kid who was sitting out the inning. "We'll go talk to W.'s dad. He's a tax attorney."

"He's a tax collector? Why do I want to talk to him?"

"No, a tax attorney. He'll protect you from the tax collectors. We can figure out how much you should budget for your quarterly estimated taxes."

One of the boy's parents was listening in. He smirked and walked away as his son gaped at me. I threw a sunflower seed at him and returned to watching the game, just in time to see one of our players hit a triple. When he scored on the next play he sort of dragged himself into the dugout.

"What's wrong?" asked Coach P.

"That's my third triple this year," said the boy. "I really want to hit a double. I don't have one of those yet."

A few pitches later his younger brother hit a double.

"You know what my favorite hit in baseball is?" I said to Coach P. as the older brother listened.

"What's that, Coach Snag?"

"A double. It's so much prettier than a stupid old triple. Anybody can hit one of those."

"No kidding," piped in his father. "Doubles are the mark of a really good ballplayer."

The boy pretended to ignore us. We started throwing sunflower seeds at him and kept it up until his younger brother scored from second.

"That was a great double," said Coach P., slapping the kid's hand as he returned to the dugout. "We're all really proud of you."

The older brother rolled his eyes. We threw some more sunflower seeds.

Soon enough the game ended. We gathered along third base for snacks and our usual debriefing.

"Great game tonight," said Coach P. "Everyone get their hands in and we'll do our cheer. This time, follow me."

The team crowded around, hands jammed into the middle.

"On three," Coach P. said. "One, two, three. Doubles rule!"

"Doubles rule!" the players screamed as we threw a few last seeds at the older brother, who, even though he didn't want to, started laughing along with his mom and dad and teammates and their parents and all the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

13-0

For real this time.

When we arrived at the field the other coach asked if we were still undefeated.

"I don't know how these rumors get started," said Coach P.

"I'll take that as a yes," said the other coach.

The other team was a good one, having lost only a game or two of their own. We were throwing our three best pitchers, however, and when we jumped to a big early lead, we felt pretty confident, enough so that we started talking about whether we could let one of our less experienced guys get some time on the mound in the last inning.

Ah, hubris. With my son pitching in the second to last inning, the other team began to hit. We tell our pitchers it's not their job to strike out the side, that the fielders have to make plays. That's easy to say after we've won a game. It's harder to tell myself that when ground balls are getting booted and fly balls getting dropped.

By the last inning there were runners on second and third, and my kid was bumping up against his maximum pitch count with only one out and the other team down by three runs.

"He can pitch one more batter," said Coach P. "Then I have to take him out. Think we should bring in Z.?"

"Sure," I replied. "He usually does a nice job."

Just then, the batter popped one up to first, where Coach P.'s son was playing. The boy made the catch and looked across the diamond, where the baserunner had left at the crack of the bat and headed for home without tagging up. Coach P.'s son tossed the ball to the third baseman, plenty of time to beat the runner back to the base to double him up and end the game. The third baseman reached for the ball. It hit his glove. And bounced off. It rolled into foul territory and the runner scuttled back, safe. Two outs now but we had to change pitchers.

Coach P. walked to the mound to make the switch. As he did, a ball whizzed past him, almost hitting my kid in the ankle. The boy got his glove down just in time to grab it.

Coach P. turned around and looked at the third baseman. Mad at himself for having missed the double play, he'd apparently decided to work it out by throwing the ball as hard as he could back to the pitcher.

"Get on the bench," Coach P. told him. The third baseman stalked to the side and was replaced by the kid whose turn it had been to sit that inning. I sat down on the bench next to the kid. He was crying.

"You can't do that," I told him. "It's okay to be frustrated. It's not okay to throw a ball like that. You could hurt someone."

The boy stared straight ahead, in no mood to talk. Coach P. finished getting the new pitcher squared away and came over.

"Don't ever do that again," he told the kid. "You'll hurt someone."

The boy continued to stare straight ahead. I walked over to where his parents were sitting.

"We had to take him out," I told them. "He's too frustrated to play right now."

"He'll be fine," said his mother. "Don't worry about it."

Our new pitcher finished warming up and the game resumed. Before long the runners had scored, cutting our lead to one, and the other team had a man on first. Their next batter walked to the plate.

"Crap," I said.

It was the other team's best player. One of the better players in the league, in fact. Also one of the more problematic. Convinced their son is nature's gift to baseball and that anything that goes against him is the result of a vast conspiracy, his parents have been permanently banned from a park in a neighboring city because of their behavior and they've been temporarily kicked out of a couple of ours for the same reason. As one might expect, their attitude has worn off on their son and he struts around a baseball field as though everyone owes him the adulation he gets at home.

He certainly strutted to the plate this time. With the tying run on first, it was hero time. His mother beamed from behind the backstop, where she waited for her Zeus to deliver to her one more moment of glory.

Our pitcher reared back and delivered. The batter made contact, a hard ground ball to the left side. My son, now playing shortstop, moved toward the ball. As he did, the third baseman, the boy who'd been sitting on the bench at the start of the inning, cut him off, bending down to snare the ball, then standing, turning, pumping once, and making the throw to first to beat the runner by a step for the out and the game.

The batter looked like he was going to cry. So did his mother. His father, absent from tonight's game, would undoubtedly look the same when he heard the story. It was very sad.

Meanwhile, our team pounded the third baseman on the back as they walked off the field. When he got to the bench I pulled him aside and said, "Nice play. I'm going to adopt you and you can move to my house and I'll buy you an Xbox 360 and a Wii."

He grinned. So did his dad. My son said, "Cool."

"Don't get too excited," I told my boy. "You don't get to use them. You can watch him play, though."

"Shut up, dad," he said.

When we lined up to shake hands with the other team, their coach and players were gracious. Except for the problem child, of course. While his teammates shook hands and congratulated us, he scowled and silently and grudgingly extended his own hand.

On the way to the car I asked Coach P., "Is it wrong for me to get so much pleasure from winning this way?"

"If it's wrong," he said, "I don't want to be right."

Friday, June 6, 2008

13-0 Rain Out

Sort of.

We had a game scheduled last night against the team coached by our friend E. Besides his son, he's coaching a couple other kids from the neighborhood, including one whose college-age sister is the assistant coach.

Along with Coach P.'s son and my own, these boys from E.'s team form part of a scrum of about eight or nine kids who have been friends since kindergarten. The dads too have become friends and the group spends a lot of time together at baseball and basketball and barbecues.

Which is all a long way of saying the pregame trash talking had been going on for weeks. With the added bonus of yesterday being the last day of school, it's hard to imagine a more highly-anticipated event.

Needless to say it rained. It didn't drizzle. It didn't mist. It rained. The National Weather Service kept issuing increasingly desperate warnings. By midmorning I got a weather alert that said, "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!!"

Whatever. There was no way this game was getting canceled if there was any chance at all to play. A couple parents called during the afternoon to check in and I assured them my extensive experience as an amateur meteorologist told me there would be a break in the weather. Then I'd hang up and return to cursing and begging the radar images, which consisted of bright red circles directly over the field.

About ninety minutes before game time the sky went black, so dark I couldn't see across the street. No rain fell, though, and soon it lightened, at least a little, and I told my youngest to get his uniform on.

By the time we got to the park most of our team was there. There were pools of standing water around the bases but we got brooms and pushed them around enough to make the field playable. Meanwhile, E. was getting increasingly frustrated waiting for his own team to appear.

"You've got what, nine of your guys?" he asked.

"Yeah. Plus another one called and said he'd get over here if we play."

"I've got five," said E. "One of my parents called to say I was putting his child's life in danger by asking him to even show up at the field. You'll probably get a complaint about me."

"Why? What did you say to him?" I asked.

He told me. It was pretty much what I'd guessed.

"I told him to call you if he had a problem. You're the league rep."

Lucky me.

Meanwhile another wave of clouds passed through, allowing my son to prove he really isn't bright enough to come in out of the rain. They cleared, though, or at least abated enough to permit a baseball game.

Except E. still didn't have his team. "Bastards," he said to nobody in particular.

"Guess this means you forfeit," Coach P. told him.

"Screw you," said E.

"Says so in the rule book," I told him. "You need at least eight players. We have nine. You have five. Smells like forfeit to me."

"It's your fault," said E., pointing at me. "Chosen people, my ass."

"Yep," said Coach P. "We win 6-0. Look at it this way; you did better than if we'd actually played the game."

"Bastards," said E.

This morning we settled on a date and time for the rescheduled game, a couple weeks from now. Coach P. and I told E. we'd consider it a rematch.

"If you win, we'll call the series tied at 1-1," I said.

"When you lose, you'll be down 0-2," said Coach P.

"Bastards," said E.

UPDATE: The game's been officially rescheduled. No more forfeit. Not that we'll admit it to E.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Busy, Busy

Another brutal day of toil for Snag. Up and out of bed. A grueling slog through the newspaper. A little work from home. Then off to lunch with a co-worker at a vendor's home.

The vendor, who's become at least a quasi-friend during previous beery afternoons following business meetings, lives in an architecturally significant home in a neighborhood full of them. He gave us a tour, explained the difficulties involved in getting a permit to change to the exterior, showed us the results of his daughter's attempt to microwave a metal goblet, invited us to play Guitar Hero in the music room. We talked about work a little, about some projects we have doing and a seminar we're planning. Then we commenced to grilling hamburgers and drinking beer and sitting in his garden, enjoying the sun and telling stories.

The afternoon passed and when I was driving home I thought how the money I used to make in my old job wasn't enough.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

12-0

I'm getting too old for this. We played the Yankees again tonight. Cold like last time, but at least it wasn't raining.

Things began well when one of our players threw a ball in from the outfield. I was chasing another ball and couldn't get back in time. Coach P. wasn't looking and it hit him square in the forehead and the kids and parents went quiet and stared. He took off his hat and rubbed the spot where it hit. One of the moms, a nurse, came over and asked him if he knew the date.

"I wish it was July 11," he said.

"What?" she asked.

"That's the day my vacation starts."

"Okay." Long pause. "Do you want some ice?"

"I think I'm alright."

A sympathetic dad walked over and offered him an egg roll. Hell, I'd take a shot to the head for an egg roll.

Another kid showed up with a two twelve packs of soda and gave one to Coach P. and one to me. He'd been sick and missed practice Sunday and we'd jokingly emailed his dad to tell him this was the price of getting back in the lineup. If we'd known it was going to work we'd have asked for a lot more.

The Yankees jumped to a quick 7-0 lead after two innings, helped in part by flexible umpiring by the dad of one of their players who'd been pressed into service. It was Coach P.'s turn to be Bad Coach and he muttered and paced while I tried to talk to him and prepared for an open field tackle if he made a move toward home plate.

Finally I went over to talk with his wife, who'd shown up late.

"He got hit in the head with a ball," I told her.

"How is he?" she asked.

"If his eyes start rolling back after you get home or he feels nauseous, you should smother him with a pillow."

She nodded her assent. When I told Coach P. about our conversation he asked me to go back and tell her to smother him regardless of how he was feeling.

The umpiring finally hit a critical point with a play at third base. The boy covering the position hasn't had much success in the field this year. In fact, he's had almost none. With two outs and runners on first and second the ball was hit to the shortstop, who flipped it to third, where it arrived a good couple of steps before the runner reached the bag.

"C'mon, guys, hustle off!" we yelled.

"I haven't made a call yet," the umpire said.

A few seconds passed.

"Safe," he said.

I was standing by the bench and immediately turned and walked away, intent on bashing my head against a tree. My expression must have betrayed me. The nurse mom grabbed my shoulder and said, "It'll be alright."

I turned to see Coach P. facing away from the field with his hands on his head. The headache already afflicting him was now clearly worse.

There was a shout from across the field. "Hey!"

We both looked. It was the other team's coach.

"He was out. Take your guys off the field."

We'd done something similar for him last time we'd played. For once a good deed went unpunished.

Coach P. waved to him. "Thanks!"

After that, we clawed our way back into it. My kid caught for two innings and threw a couple runners out trying to steal. Another boy, one we hadn't much hope for at the beginning of the season, followed that up the next inning when he also threw out a runner from behind the plate. Coach P.'s son fielded a ball in shallow right field and seeing an opportunity outran a Yankee to second base for a force out. As has been the case in more of our games than I would have guessed, everybody contributed something.

It wasn't all pretty. The school year ends Thursday and you could bounce a quarter off most of the boys, they're wound so tight. At least four of our players ended up in tears at one point or another, enough to prompt a dad to ask if he should run to the store for Midol. His wife glared at him but one of the other moms said, "They're spend enough time together, maybe they're on the same cycle."

Eventually the game ended and we'd won again. A few boys started hopping around in glee but we shut that down pretty fast, shook hands with the other team, told the umpire we appreciated his efforts, and retired to the bench for a post-game talk.

"Good game tonight," said Coach P. The kids beamed.

"Don't ever celebrate on the field like that again," he said. The kids looked down.

"Anything to add, Coach Snag?"

"Just one thing. When the other coach called his own guy out at third? That's the way you should play this game."

Coach P. sent out the customary post-game email tonight. We address them with the players in mind, assuming or at least hoping the parents will pass them along. Tonight's said, in part, "Let's stay humble and keep our heads out of the clouds. Showing good sportsmanship is just as important as the game itself."

I sent one back to him that said, "You must have gotten hit harder than I thought." Then I sent a note to the Yankees coach thanking him for what he did. I told him what it meant to the boy playing third and that we'd used it as an example for our own team. I wished him luck for the rest of the season and I meant it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cats In The Cradle

One of the nice things about being away is the warm welcome home I can always expect.

"Hey buddy, how'd it go this weekend?" I asked my oldest after I finished unpacking from my trip to the cabin.

"We figured something out," he said.

Youthful knowledge is so precious. "What's that?" I asked.

"We do just fine around here without you. You can get that apartment you're always talking about as long as you send us a check every month."

"That's sweet," I replied, thinking, It seems like only yesterday he was excited when I got home.

"Yeah, we didn't miss you at all," added my youngest before shouting "Woo-hoo!" and giving his brother a high five. Fortunately the middle child was elsewhere so he couldn't participate in this emotional flogging.

Digging through the refrigerator I found leftover steak. I took it out and examined it. My oldest caught me.

"That's Mom's," he yelled. "I made it for her last night. Put it back."

"It looks good," I said weakly.

"It was good. You can't have any. It's Mom's."

"So it would appear," I said.

"If you had your own apartment you could have steak whenever you want," he added helpfully while his brother danced another victory jig.

"I'd take the TV with me," I told them. It gave them momentary pause.

"We'd buy a new one with the money you'd have to send us," the oldest finally responded.

"There wouldn't be enough," I said.

"He's got retirement money!" shouted the youngest, turning excitedly to his brother. "We could use that."

"Sorry," I said. "That's not how the system works. Kick me out and you'll be lucky if the judge gives you enough to get a box of generic corn-flavored flakes for breakfast every week. Besides, I'll just head for a place without extradition."

"What's extradition?" the youngest asked. The oldest seemed to know, as he glared at me venomously.

"It means I can live on a beach with my TV and no worries," I told him. "Sort of like the life I have now except in reverse."

"What's going on?" asked the Lovely Bride as she came in the room.

"The boys were just saying how much they missed me," I said.

"Really?" she asked, skeptically.

"You bet. And I was saying how much I missed them."

"Uh huh," she said.

"Mom, what does extradition mean?" the youngest blurted out.

"It means your father's talking nonsense again," she said.

I closed my eyes, just for a moment, and imagined myself back on the dock.



















"Yes, nonsense," I said before giving her a kiss, to the great disgust of my sons.

"Well, I missed you," she said, kissing me back.

Good enough.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

11-0

On Saturday we played another team from outside our own league. A debate currently rages between Coach P. and my son as to whether an opposing runner reached first on an error or a bloop single. If an error, our three pitchers threw a combined no-hitter. If not, they threw a one-hitter. Either way, our team gave up the disputed hit/error, a walk, made three plays on weak ground balls, and struck out the other fifteen batters they faced.

Not that I'd know first hand. This weekend was my annual trip to the cabin with four or five other guys, depending on who's able to get away. The overlapping themes of the trip include fishing, drinking, and movies, not in any particular order and not that they're mutually exclusive.

I've known the guy who hosts it since we were both six years old, something that makes my tired bones cry if I dwell on it. The others are people the two of us have met since reaching adulthood. Most of my friends are alike, however, no matter how long I've known them; emotionally stunted twelve year olds with more money than sense. This applies regardless of how much or how little money any particular friend may have.

Anyway, the friend who hosts it has some money. I don't begrudge him that. He may be the single hardest working individual I've ever met. He bought his cabin for a relative song some years ago, a cozy, old fashioned place on a beautiful lot on the a nice bay that belongs to a chain of lakes that hosts the summer cabins of movie stars and CEOs in addition to people like my friend who got in just in time.

But, as I said, he has some money now and this spring he tore down the old place and put up a new one. It's where he and his wife hope to retire some day and it's spectacular; high, arching windows and custom furniture inside, landscaping in front and back. Most important, it has a well stocked bar, something of special utility during the thunderstorms that rolled through over the weekend.

I didn't sleep much while I was there. We arrived at midnight on Thursday and stayed up until 3 a.m. I was up Friday morning by 7 a.m., for no good reason, and then there was fishing and cooking and drinking and Saturday was early again and then Sunday and then I got home just in time for baseball practice.

It was hot today. It hasn't been that way much and the kids were antsy and bored.

"Scrimmage," shouted Coach P. about halfway through. He broke out the Wiffle balls.

"God, no," I said.

Wiffle balls mean I have to play instead of standing around barking orders. I'm not exactly a triathlete under the best of circumstances and I was in no shape to go chugging around the bases after this weekend.

At my first at bat, I hobbled to the plate using my bat as a crutch, to the great amusement of the moms who'd gathered on the bleachers to watch. Hilarious.

On the first pitch, the kid on the mound threw at my head. I ducked, using muscles that had tried to slough away years ago. On the second pitch, I made contact and hobbled, this time for real, to first just in time to have one of the kids grab the base and run toward the outfield.

"See how you enjoy sitting on the bench the next couple games," I yelled.

Mercifully, the scrimmage finally ended. It was a 63-63 tie according to the official scorer, who happened to be Coach P. Then we gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" to one of the players as he blushed furiously and happily.

For dinner Coach P. and I and our sons had cheeseburgers at one of the local fields so he could scout out some potential all star candidates. Coach P.'s been selected as one of the two head coaches for this year's all star season, which includes a district and then a state tournament. Try outs are in a couple weeks and my kid's desperately hoping to make the team. He's got a decent shot.

"How was your weekend?" Coach P. asked.

"Good," I said.

"You missed a great game."

"I know. It was still fun."

"Got any pictures?"

"Sure. Got one of me holding a smallmouth bass."





















"Nice."