Thursday, June 28, 2007

Game Over

Tonight was it, the last game. Beforehand we had batting practice. Slorn hit one right back at Coach P. who yelled to Slorn's parents, "That's it, get him out of here, take him home, I'm done with this." Slorn started laughing and then so did Coach P. and then the other players and then me and it pretty much killed batting practice for the next few minutes.

It was a cool night today, a nice night to watch a game. My mother was there and her grandson put on a show for her, pitching a shutout inning, making a couple of nice catches, and fielding a hard ground ball in time to get the out at first. At the plate he hit two triples and a double, laid down a perfect bunt, and got robbed of a grand slam when the right fielder made a nice play on a line drive going over his head.

When he came back to the bench after his third extra-base hit I told him, "Next time get a little wood on the ball. I'm tired of these little squibbers you've been hitting all night."

He glanced at me and shook his head, certain it wasn't worth the trouble to respond. Coach P. punched him in the shoulder and said, "Come on, give your daddy a big hug and tell him you love him." My boy stared at Coach P. for a second, then turned and spit a sunflower seed at my feet. Punk.

We were again facing a team we'd dominated before, and again we fell behind early. Going into the fifth our opponents had an 11-10 lead, but we tied it up in the top half of the inning and held them scoreless in the bottom, with Slorn making a nice play at first to end it. Slorn, the kid who started the season telling us how he'd never play in the majors. Maybe, but he sure played some ball this year.

In the top of the sixth we scored once to go ahead, taken out of a bigger rally by a questionable call at the plate. The college-aged sister of one of the players was there, coaching third, a competitive player in her own right. She didn't like the call much, but the umpire's a volunteer parent and when we threatened to hit her with a tranquilizer dart she calmed down a little.

In the bottom of that inning, the last inning of the last game, my boy threw a strikeout and got an out at first. And then, with the tying run on third he got the batter to pop up, the ball going high over home plate and landing in fair territory, Coach P. screaming at the catcher to let it roll foul, the catcher not hearing or not listening and charging for the ball while the batter froze, not sure what to do until the catcher threw him out at first, ending the game and the season, giving us one last victory and one last chance for the kids to jump up and down.

Every player is better than he was back in March and best as we can tell, they all had fun. We finished with a 15-6 record for the year, maybe not the best in the league but pretty close. We didn't win those games by putting the best kids at the important positions, we won because every kid got a chance to play and they all made the most of it. Coach P. was right when he told the team having a good time was more important than victories. What we didn't know at the time was that by telling them to have fun we gave them what they needed to win.

Bottom Of The Ninth

Tonight's our last game of the season and we're hoping to go out on a high note. Tuesday we had a scare, falling behind early to a team we'd beaten handily a few weeks ago. Our opponents had gotten better and our heads weren't in it. Fortunately, after a couple of spotty innings we got our act together.

By the bottom of the second-to-last inning we'd clawed our way back to a narrow 10-9 deficit, thanks in large part to a bruising two-run double by one of my son's friends. When he came back to the bench after scoring himself on another boy's hit, I picked him up and told him if he got another double, I'd adopt him myself. He looked surprisingly unenthusiastic, although his dad seemed intrigued.

While the five-run rule can be your friend, it can also put you in a bad spot. This was one of those times. We were visitors, so the other team had two more chances to get some runs, and we only had one.

Coach P. looked at me and said, "You know one of our guys is going to miss Thursday's game."


"Tonight's the last time they're all here."


"I want to win this damn game," he said.

"So do I," I replied.

We walked over to the bench and huddled with the boys.

Coach P. looked at them. "Guys," he said, "I'm going to do something I haven't done all year. I'm going to tell you the score."

Most of the kids usually have a pretty good idea whether we're winning or losing, but we'd made a practice of not talking about it until the games were over. At the beginning of the season we'd told them having fun was the most important thing and that's a pretty hard thing to believe if your coach is always going on about the score. Besides, the boys put enough pressure on themselves; they don't need everyone at the game thinking about the consequences of screwing up.

Coach P. continued. "I haven't done it before because it really doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter now, either. It's just that tonight's the last night you're all going to be playing together and I want you to know what you need to do to win. We've got to hold them and we've got to score some runs."

The team nodded solemnly and went out to their positions. A couple of good plays made for a quick 1-2-3 inning and our team was back on the bench, getting their batting helmets on, knowing they needed at least two runs to take the lead.

And they got them. Kids who haven't always been on base a lot came through in the clutch. My son got a double and so did Coach P.'s and before we knew it we were ahead 14-10 and it was time to let the other team have its last at-bats.

Our pitcher was so nervous I thought he was going to pass out on the mound. The first batter hit a long fly ball that one of our outfielders ran down and caught just before it got into the gap for extra bases. This was the heart of their order, though, and soon there were two runs in, two men on base, and two outs.

Their batter advanced to the plate while his teammates screamed, "A home run will win it!" The pitcher delivered and he connected, a hard ground ball at our second baseman, a sweet, quiet boy whose dad tells us he's having the time of his life, and I cringed waiting for it to skitter into the outfield, but he got his glove on it and made the throw to first for the final out.

The others mobbed him and they poured off the field, celebrating their victory as they've celebrated others, far more of them than we would have guessed when the season began. They gathered around and said their goodbyes to the boy who's going to miss tonight's game and Coach P. told them how proud we are of them and as he talked I thought about what a privilege it's been to be a part of this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ooh, Pick Me, Pick Me!

Jennifer tells me these crazy kids have got some meme going around, where you’re supposed to reveal eight random facts about yourself and then get eight other people to do the same. I think you get cursed with bad luck if you break the chain.

There are those who insist true randomness cannot exist. Or so I’m told, I can’t be bothered to look it up. Assuming they’re wrong (something I assume about most people), here are mine:

1. I once had a vestigial gill surgically removed. Despite that, my existence does not prove Darwin wrong.

2. I hitchhiked around the country with a friend after high school. There were at least three times on that trip I should have died.

3. I read “Animal Farm” to a four-year-old. He hasn’t been right since.

4. My best friend and I met in 7th-grade when I kicked him. Neither of us has matured.

5. My dream is to eat one kind of every animal before I die.

6. I hate to fly but I’ve visited forty-nine states. I have been banned from returning to forty-two of them.

7. I wish I’d grown up to be a member of the Rat Pack. I can’t sing, dance, or act, but I’m good at drinking and gambling.

8. Most of what you think about me is wrong.

Now, tag, you’re it:

Adorable Girlfriend at Republic of Dogs
Pinko Punko at 3Bulls!
teh at Freedom Camp
Righteous Bubba at (where else) Righteous Bubba
Billy Pilgrim at empire of the senseless
Mandos at politblogo
Mendacious D at Chrome Beach
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

One Toke Over The Line, Sweet Jesus

Welcome to America, where corporations have more rights than kids.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Sunday was the annual day out for a bunch of the dads from the neighborhood. It started with a 7:04 a.m. tee time. I don't like golf, which makes me a statistical freak for my demographic. I prefer sleeping in, so I did that instead.

Golf went long and we didn't meet up until almost noon. When I asked what happened, one of the golfers explained they'd decided to baptize the Hindu member of the foursome in a water trap but he'd turned out to be stronger than they expected. "It's all the curry he eats," someone said. "That stuff gives you superhuman strength."

We got into my car for the long drive to the track. Two of the guys are pretty serious gamblers and two are semi-casual ones. The remaining two of us are a lot more interested in hanging around with our buddies than in the complexities of simulcast betting.

In fact, I'd never been to a horse race before and I was kind of looking forward to seeing what it was all about. Best as I can tell, it involves a lot of intensely scientific-sounding theories, all of them grounded in hunches, voodoo, and faith. It's much like Intelligent Design that way. There was a lot of talk about exactas and boxing and daily doubles, alternating with spasms of "that goddamned horse went wide at the end, I can't believe you did that to me you fucking cow!" After a couple of hours we had a nice pile of losing betting slips in the middle of the table, christened the Pit of Despair and festooned with cigarette butts and bottle caps.

I was driving, which meant I wasn't drinking. That was a good thing. I gamble a little, but it's one of the few vices that hasn't gotten its clutches into me over the years. Pour enough liquor into me, though, and it's "Come to Daddy!" time. Yesterday I was content with a long series of $2 to show bets, most of them made based on which horse's name could be twisted into the filthiest double entendre.

Even then it quickly became apparent that my bets were the equivalent of the icy hand of death and I finished with two wins out of twenty or thirty wagers. Given that the more impressive win returned me $3.30 on a $3 investment, the best value I got for my money was the delicious cheeseburger I ordered. For all I know I was eating my horse from the third race. I might as well have been, because she sure couldn't run for shit.

By midafternoon I'd hit my self-imposed stop-loss limit for the day and I turned to lending moral support to any of our group who lost a particularly ugly race. You don't need to much about something to be able to mess with someone else who's getting hosed.

"What the hell is that thing you bet on, a llama?"

"I've never seen a horse and a jockey in a sack race before. Good pick!"

"What was the name of your trifecta - Alpo, Eukanuba, and Science Diet?"

"Hey, I'll rent you a cardboard box in my backyard if things don't get pick up for you. It's an all-you-can-eat mole buffet out there."

Finally it got late enough that most of the tracks around the country had closed. One of the guys was willing to stick around for the results from some place in Australia, but peer pressure won out and we got him to the car. As we pulled out of the lot, I looked in the rear view mirror and said, "Boy, when you've been away all day like this, do you miss your families as much as I miss mine?" We all laughed and laughed, the whole way home.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer, And The Living Is Easy

We couldn't find a replacement team. Instead seven guys from our team, plus three brothers and two neighbor kids faced thirteen adults for six innings of kid versus parent baseball on a hot summer afternoon. A mom behind the plate throwing herself in front of pitches, a boy robbing his dad of extra bases with a running catch, and the kids winning the game 88-3, if you can believe the scoreboard. Then back to one of the parents' for dinner and a couple of beers while the boys chased each other through the backyards.

What a lovely day.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wanna Have A Catch?

Saturday we were scheduled to play again at our local Field of Dreams. This is another big weekend for the league and there's been feverish work to get the park in top shape for it. We had grandparents coming and parents bringing cameras and a lineup designed to make the most of it. One of our families gave up a camping trip to be there. Slorn's parents even told us they'd skip a memorial service for his grandmother if we needed him, an offer we told them was touching but unnecessary.

Wednesday, the other coach told us his team wasn't playing. "It's been a long season," he said. "Some of our families aren't going to be there and we won't have enough to field a team."

Coach P. and I told him we'd find him some replacement players. We said we'd loan him a couple of our own, or find some from another team, whatever he needed to fill out his roster for the day. I even volunteered to buy his team lunch at the concession stand if they'd just show up.

"No thanks," he said. "We'll just forfeit. Our parents aren't going to want to go to the trouble if it's not a real game."

That's not the point. We don't keep standings in this league, there's no value in a forfeit. Our team's won some games this year and lost some. Off the top of my head, I can't even tell you what our record is. Who cares?

After using up a lot of energy not punching anybody, Coach P. and I scrambled to find a substitute team but the others already have a game that day and none of the other coaches have much interest in trying to schedule a doubleheader at this late date. It'll be a miracle if anything comes together by tomorrow.

Instead, it looks as though we'll play parents against kids. Not all of our team will be there, the one family's going camping after all, Slorn's attending the memorial, a couple of the others will probably miss it. We've got some brothers and sisters who will suit up in their own uniforms, though, and parents are bringing their gloves. A dad volunteered his wife for shortstop, something he'll pay for when she hears about it, but she's a good sport and she'll give it a shot. We'll get to use the billboard and eat concessions, and people can take pictures, and the grandparents can watch their children and grandchildren play baseball on a beautiful field in a beautiful park, just for fun, the way it should be. And I just feel sorry for a team and a coach and families who are willing to forfeit that.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Don't Cry For Me, Argentina

Have you ever contemplated your own funeral? If not, please do. I've seen far too many send-offs ruined by poor planning, the preferences of the recently departed ignored in favor of donkey rides and paper mache. Hence, for the benefit of my friends and loved ones, I'm taking this opportunity to put my wishes down for future reference.

I don't like the idea of being buried, stuck beneath the crushing weight of the earth. It's too much like parenthood. I'd prefer cremation instead. A light toasting actually, just so I reach the consistency of a crouton. A dusting of garlic and dried herbs will complete the preparation. I will then be propped in a corner for a mandatory viewing by the neighborhood children.

As an irreligious sort, I'd find it silly to have my funeral in a church. Better to have it take place on a scow in my backyard. I don't have waterfront property, which will only add to the sense of drama.

It doesn't make much sense to send flowers to an outdoor funeral, surrounded as I'd be with the invasive species arboretum we've created here at Snag Acres. Instead, I shall be festooned with piñatas and a wide variety of ceramic garden animals, adding a delightful air of insouciance to the proceedings. Katie the Wonder Dog, stuffed and preserved if she predeceases me, will sit at my feet in loyal attendance while my children read aloud from "North Dallas Forty."

Musical options are harder to narrow down. A marching kazoo band playing "Convoy" has a certain appeal, but in the end I have to go with the more traditional
Céline Dion cover of the Dead Kennedys "California Über Alles."

Lunch (a misnomer, perhaps, as the ceremony won't end until 3 a.m.) will consist of a variety platter of braised eggs, garnished with raw root vegetables as a nod to my deep commitment to the "Living Food" movement.

Finally, my brain and spinal cord will be removed and donated to the local elementary school for use in the annual 3rd-grade production of "Hamlet." I'm a registered limb donor, so my arms and legs will be cryogenically frozen and saved for transplantation. The rest of me will be lightly sauced and, following a 3-day motorcade during which time the nation's banks will close in mourning, fed to the raptor exhibit at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo.

And only then will a sorrowful populace attempt to move on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Seventh Inning Stretch

The season's starting to wind down, only four more games left to play. We're close to the last hurrah.

You can see it in the team. They still play hard, but a lot of them, they're getting tired and when the game slows down, they get bored. We had one of our better players throwing sand in the outfield tonight, something that wouldn't have happened last week.

You can see it in the parents too. They still show up and cheer, but they've become friends with each other and they talk almost as much as they watch the games. That's alright. One of our goals this year was to make sure the parents had fun too, to give them a reason to let their sons keep playing.

You can also see it in Coach P. and me. We're looking for ways to get the boys in at positions they haven't played. We were able to do that tonight. One kid, a sweet boy even if he still has trouble finding his position, whose parents haven't been there to watch him for more than a few minutes all season long, has been begging to pitch since early May. What the hell, we were ahead going into the bottom half of the last inning, ensured a win by God's gift to coaches, the five-run rule.

We put him on the mound and while he's no Koufax, he wasn't not as bad as he could be. He threw a lot of balls, in fact he walked in five runs, but he put a few over the plate.

This boy's not playing extended season. I'll be a little surprised if he ever plays organized ball again. But, hey, he gets to go home and tell his buddies that he went up there and threw some strikes. He came off the field as the winning pitcher, or close enough, and his teammates patted him on the back and told him he'd done a good job.

We have a few more games, a team party where we'll give out trophies and take some pictures, but soon it will be over. There's extended league after that, but it's much smaller and shorter and even though my kid's going to be playing for Coach P. and another guy, I'll be working and won't see many of the games.

A couple days ago, my son asked me if Coach P. and I were going to be coaching next year. I told him I thought so and he grinned and said, "Cool." I'm glad he thinks so because I've never had a better time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday Night At The Movies

I picked up the middle boy at soccer practice tonight and when we got home he wanted to watch a movie so we put on "Pan's Labyrinth" and shared a bowl of popcorn on the couch and halfway through he looked at me and said, "I wish I was magic," and I said, "Maybe you are," and he said, "Yeah, right," and I thought, You don't know the half of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Love Is A Many Splendored Thing

One of the things people don't fully realize until they're married is the rich tradition that's grown up around anniversary presents. Sure, you may know the 10th is for diamonds, the 25th for silver, the 50th for gold, but how about those other years? Never fear, Snag is here! Use this handy table to buy the perfect gift for your spouse/significant other/pet.


Make this special day memorable with the gift of meat! Pick a traditional pork roast or go with a cutting edge presentation of free-range elk snout - either way, any woman's heart melts when she hears the unmistakable crackle of butcher wrap.


In earlier times, this was the day that husbands and wives exchanged gout. Advances in medicine have made this increasingly expensive, and it is now commonplace to see couples carefully wrapping prosthetics in anticipation of this exciting anniversary. Whether you're a "leggy lady" or a "handy man," you're sure to find something you love in that oblong box!


Who doesn't love a grub? Frisky and affectionate, these cuddly "eels of the garden" are a perfect way to commemorate the memories that the two of you have collected. Get a pair and start your own breeding operation!


As time goes on, many couples prefer to exchange practical gifts. That's why pine tar makes the ideal present! Delicious and filling, it is available at most department stores or can be special-ordered from a variety of online vendors.


It's a lucky lady who finds herself the proud owner of an anniversary harpoon. There's something delightfully naughty about brandishing one of these at the country club while the other wives shiver with envy. Talk about your outrageous slings and arrows!


Be the first on your block to have an abacus made of cheese! Once reserved for Paris Hilton and Middle Eastern royalty, these are now available at many upscale dairies. They're a whole new way to count calories.

There are other options of course. Some women adore a good smelt. Some guys go ga-ga over dropcloths. Part of the fun of anniversaries is knowing your partner's preferences. If you're not sure, though, this list is a great way to be safe instead of sorry.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary, sweetie!

Condolences may be sent to Mrs. Snag, courtesy of this blog.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Richie Rich Doesn't Live Here Anymore

A while ago I changed jobs, leaving one that would have paid me more for one that I like a lot better. Before I made the decision we talked it over as a family, especially the fact it meant trading money for time. Somewhat surprisingly, the kids were in favor of that, an attitude they held until the first time they were denied something. They get their revenge by pointing out convertibles and nice houses and all the other things they tell me I could have if I wasn't so lazy. I tell them I could still have nice things if I wasn't stuck raising a bunch of ungrateful little thugs.

Whatever. I don't expect my kids to tolerate me, much less appreciate me. I'm happy and that's what counts. The original discussion has led to some misunderstandings, however, as my children don't always appreciate simple accounting, namely that there's an expense side to the family budget.

I found this out when a neighbor mentioned she'd heard the Snags would be rich if I hadn't left my old position. I asked her what she meant and she told me that my youngest had taken my previous gross salary, adjusted it for inflation, multiplied it by a random number of years, and arrived at a number he deemed net assets, a number he'd shared with pretty much everyone he'd talked to over the course of a few weeks.

"I don't need material wealth when I have such precious children," I said. She punched her husband in the shoulder when he started laughing.

This idea of Snag's Paradise Lost has apparently spread even more widely than I realized. The other day I was talking to one of my middle son's friends, asking him what he wanted to do when he grew up. "I want to be rich," he said. "Like you would have been if you hadn't quit your job."

"That's not all it's cracked up to be," I told him. "There are more important things in life."

"No there aren't," he said.

I know the boy's parents. They're nice and decent people and didn't plant this idea in his head. Perhaps that's why I felt compelled to defend myself.

"Sure there are," I insisted. "I could make more money than I do now, but I decided I'd rather do something I enjoy. Besides, now I have more time to spend with my family."

I could tell by his face he didn't believe me. He's seen me with my kids. He has good reason to be skeptical.

"Really," I went on. "Think about it. Think about something that makes you unhappy, and then think about doing it every day for the rest of your life. It's not worth it."

"Yes it is," he said. "I'd rather have money."

"Alright," I said, determined to make this a teachable moment, My own kid shifted uncomfortably, probably concerned I'd start crying in front of his friend. He knows how I get on this subject. "What's the one thing in the world that makes you sad, that makes you wish your life was different?"

"Not being rich," he replied. I stared at him for a minute, unsure how to respond. I looked at my son, who acknowledged his friend's unanswerable logic with a shrug. The two of them walked away, no longer interested in my crazy talk, leaving me with only the comfort of knowing they because I'm not rich, my children will someday have to choose their own jobs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Close Enough

Coach P. and I are driving home tonight from a game when I look in the rear view mirror. If objects in mirror are closer than they appear, I think, that truck must be pretty damn close.

I turn around to look. Sure enough, there's a pair of headlights two feet from our bumper. I glance at my friend. He's clutching the steering wheel, a little pale. We're on the freeway, we've got a crazy person behind us and six kids in the car, and there's no room to cut in on the other lane. Finally we get ahead of the other cars and move over. The truck moves in behind us, still a couple of feet away. We switch lanes again and the truck shoots by. I glance out the window and see its driver hunched over the wheel and talking on her phone.

We watch it ahead of us now, sometimes straddling the center line, occasionally drifting over the edge striping on the sides of the road.

"She's not going to make it wherever she's going," I say. I take my cell phone out and toy with the idea of calling the cops.

I don't have to decide. Coach P. says, "Here she goes," and her truck drifts into the ditch on the right side of the road at 90 miles per hour before shooting back across the freeway a couple of dozen yards in front of us, hitting the median, and rolling through oncoming traffic before coming to a rest upside down in the ditch on the other side of the road.

We stop our car and I call 911. Coach P. runs across the freeway while our kids crane their heads out the window to see what's happening. Miraculously she hasn't hit anyone else and miraculously she crawls from her car, bloody but conscious. A case of beer protrudes from her shattered rear window.

Cars stop on both sides of the interstate and a man approaches from one of them, pulling on gloves. "Doctor," he says when Coach P. looks at him. A woman approaches from another, also pulling on gloves. "Nurse," she says. Together they check the driver's pulse and cradle her neck.

Squad cars stream down the highway. The officers walk her to an ambulance. Staggering through the broken glass she's left behind, the driver says, "I only had a couple of beers. Hey, any of you guys have a cigarette?"

The rest of the way home, the kids are jazzed and so are we. We recount the crash over and over and it already begins to take on the flavor of mythology, a story that will gather weight and nuance with each retelling. As we near my house, Coach P. slows the car and looks at the kids, all of them still years away from driving on their own.

"Guys, listen," he says. "Someday when you're at a party and one of your friends has been drinking and wants you to get in a car with him, call us. We'll pick you up, no questions asked. I don't want to be identifying any of you at the morgue."

Later, I ask my middle son, the one out of the group who's closest to getting a license, if he understands what Coach P. was talking about. He's half watching TV and he nods impatiently. At a commercial, I turn off the sound and make him look at me. "This is serious," I say. "That woman almost died today. I couldn't stand it if that was you."

He thinks for a moment, nods, and turns up the sound. He's a good kid and he listens. I hope the lesson sticks, for him and all of the kids who were with us today, who don't yet understand death, but who tonight were closer to it than they know.

Wide World Of Moose

Friend of Befouled Mendacious D inquires why the proliferation of cable has not led to a moose-related sports channel. While the recapture of Congress by the Democrats has prompted calls for the passage of a "Title IX for Moose," the MSM continues to ignore too many of the contributions that moose make on our playing fields. Unfortunately, our gentle forest friends are far too retiring to shine the spotlight on themselves. Let's do it for them:


Originally brought to North America by immigrant yak, soccer remains a favorite of moose throughout Canada. Nevertheless, the inability to purchase affordable shin guards remains a serious obstacle for young moose and several of the sport's superstars have set up a charitable foundation to address the problem. Hooligans have been known to set peat fields on fire after a home team victory but FIFA's recent two-year suspension of the Vancouver Fighting Ungulates may turn this around.


Every little calf grows up wanting to play third base for the Yankees and the proliferation of competitive t-ball leagues has only spread the reach of that dream. Sadly, institutional discrimination kept moose out of professional baseball until 1985, when "Antlers" Mulligan finally broke the species barrier. Just twelve years later, the Seattle Mariners became the first team to field an all-moose line-up.

Hot Dog Eating

While it has not yet received the recognition as an Olympic Sport sought by its fans, hot dog eating competitions are a crowd favorite throughout exclusive resort areas of the Mountain West. With their fiercely carnivorous dispositions, moose are ideally suited for the rigors of binge consumption. The current champion, "Tiny" Lindstrom, recently shattered existing records by consuming 483 hot dogs in just under 57 seconds.

Moose continue to make inroads in a wide range of other athletic endeavors ranging from bass tournaments to motocross. So, turn on the tube, crack open a cold one, and marvel at their talents. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, June 11, 2007

How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

I've spend the last couple of days at one of the resorts in our fair state, most of it listening to a rehash of the past legislative session. Not surprisingly, I spent tonight drinking.

When I called home to check on my family it appeared they were in the middle of a home invasion. The last time I heard anything that loud was when I fired an anti-tank weapon in basic training.

"What's up, Pappy?!" my oldest screamed when he answered the phone. Caller ID. Apparently my son lives in a holler.

"Nothing, Christ, put your mother on the phone."

"All right Pappy!!" he screamed even louder before bouncing the phone off the floor.

My wife got on, told me something about a bicycle I agreed to but still don't understand, and tried to hand the phone to one of the other kids. Neither wanted to talk to me, beyond shrieking something in the background about golf. Best I can tell, they've joined a new sect of Pentecostals, one that loudly worships tee-times.

I hung up and went out to the deck overlooking the water where a few of my colleagues had gathered. They'd all called home too and they all had that slightly shocked look, whether because of the call or the broader realization of what their lives have become, I can't say. I poured myself a drink from the communal bottle of whiskey, looked across the lake, and said, "I bet I could hit that radio antenna with a good rifle and a scope."

A couple of them took a drink and nodded in agreement. We spent the evening talking about our kids and legislation and ballistics and windage. I don't know what tonight says about me, but I don't think it's good.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How Do You Spell TRO?

Coach P. and I and our spouses went out with some new friends last night, the parents of one of the kids on our team, with my oldest agreeing (for money) to watch the younger kids. Our new friends have never entrusted their boys to a babysitter before and were a little nervous. Coach P. told them that he'd put away most of his guns for the evening. That didn't seem to comfort them.

It's hard to know what the team parents think of us. During the bottom of the last inning a few games ago, Coach P. was leaning against the dugout with his eyes closed while I paced outside the backstop. One of the moms asked me if I was feeling alright.

"Not really," I said. "I think I'm having a heart attack. It'll be fine if we strike this next kid out. Otherwise I'll probably die. I hope I die either way. I have a lot of insurance and it would be best for my family." She giggled, more of a nervous tic really, and moved away.

These new friends seemed willing to tolerate us. Or, as therapists by training, it could be they saw the invitation to join us last night as a cry for help. The meal was fine, but I'm not sure that my suggestion of "Knocked Up" as an after dinner activity was a good idea. If I had any social awareness I'd question the advisability of sitting next to the parent of a child entrusted to my care and snickering at juvenile condom jokes. I don't, so I just snorted and ate my way through the movie.

We got through the evening, though, and went back to Coach P.'s to retrieve the kids. They were wired on sugar and having a fine old time laughing and chasing the dog around the house. When our new friends told their kids they had to leave they howled their protest until the husband relented and had a beer. Coach P. and I took him upstairs to admire the new 50-inch TV and he made properly impressed noises, although he seemed to find it odd when I said that if it had one more input jack Coach P. could leave his wife and move in with it. After a bit they paid my oldest for his time, grabbed their kids, and left, quickly.

The next game is on Tuesday. I think I'll drive by Monday to see whether our new friends have put their house on the market by then.

My Favorite Year

Coach P. and I both had the day off on Friday so we took a few of the players out to practice. We were playing at a new park on Saturday, one our team's never used before, and with a grass infield, the balls don't roll as far or as fast. It can take some getting used to. We hit grounders and fly balls and pitched and took batting practice and got my youngest to lie down on second base and dodge baseballs that Coach P. tossed at him. The last drill may not have taught anyone very much, but it was funny watching him roll around in the dirt to avoid getting hit. As we were leaving to catch the bus to watch the major leaguers, Coach P. and I agreed that if we won the lottery, this is what we'd do every day.

Saturday came soon enough, one of the biggest days of the season. It started with team photos, the kids lined up and grinning like chimps. After that, it was a rare day game, played on the new field, a little gem of a park located in the middle of our town. It has a sunken diamond and stadium seating and a scoreboard. It's the Field of Dreams without Kevin Costner or corn.

It has a concession stand too, and our team swarmed it, ordering burgers and hot dogs and bratwurst. There was a little time between photos and game time so we weren't too worried, although I told my kid that stuffing his face full of candy before he had to pitch probably wasn't a great idea. He squawked for a while but finally wandered away.

We were visitors so batted first, up against the team with the best record in the league. There's a rumor floating around that it was intentionally stacked with the cream of the crop. I know that's not true, but that's the story and it hasn't helped that they play aggressively, running kids when most coaches wouldn't. That's okay, though, it's all part of the game.

The first couple of innings were pretty uneventful, except for Coach P. offering to take our leftfielder to an air show later if he'd stop watching the planes overhead. Slorn, who'd told me earlier that he'd only had six hours of sleep the night before, spent a fair amount of time staring at his hands, but that's not entirely out of character so we let it pass.

The third inning, my son was pitching. The batter drilled a shot, one of the hardest hit balls I've seen this year, right at the pitcher's mound. Damnit, I thought, a double at least, but somehow my kid managed to fall backwards and catch it at his ankles for the third out.

The rest of the team pounded him on the back and it seemed to light a fire. We built and held a lead going into the bottom of the last inning with my son's friend pitching. He's a rock. We like to use him late in close games because he's the one guy we know can come in without having a panic attack. We got one quick out, then my kid made a nice throw from third to Coach P.'s kid at first to get another, and then our pitcher struck out the last batter and our team jumped up and down and shook hands with the other team and the ump, got their snacks, and headed home.

Yesterday was a perfect game. Every single player on the team did something worth seeing. Some scored runs, some got hits, some made plays. The kids went home knowing they'd helped us win and the parents went home with stories to tell grandparents and neighbors and coworkers.

When we started the season, we thought we'd be lucky to win half our games. Now, we're 9-4 and we've only lost one game in the last month. We've got some good players, but we don't have the best roster, not by a long shot. What we have are the best kids.

Friday, June 8, 2007

All Aboard

Tonight is kid's baseball night at the major league ballpark. Most of our team is going, and we'll soon be boarding the bus for the drive into the big city. The teams get to parade around the field before the game starts. It's kind of a neat deal. A friend of mine takes the same bus and we like to sing the greatest hits from "West Side Story" and "Fiddler on the Roof" during the ride. Our wives sit far away from us, our children even further.

Last year my youngest was picked to stand next to a player during the National Anthem. Along with seventeen other kids, two for every position, he and I were ushered into the area behind home plate to watch warm ups. Everyone had brought a ball and a marker, of course, but the team rep asked us not to request autographs from the players. Too disruptive as the game's just starting. Makes sense I guess.

As we were waiting, though, one of the announcers came down to do an interview. He used to play for the team and my son's a big fan. I edged over and asked him if he'd mind autographing a ball. He obliged and I walked back to the boy and showed him the signature, addressed to him by name.

"You're the best dad ever."

Yes I am.

The team rep came over and brought him over to home plate, as he'd been assigned to catcher. The umpires shook his hand, joked with him a little, and pointed it out when he appeared on the Jumbotron. The catcher came out then and shook his hand too and my son almost fainted, talking to not only a big leaguer, but one of the great ones. The anthem played, the umpire yelled, “Play ball,” and we joined the rest of the team in the stands, everyone acting properly impressed with the autographed ball.

One other thing about my youngest, he likes hot dogs, and he especially likes hot dogs at the ballgame. I bought him one. I bought him another. I bought him a third. And that was enough. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not made of money and these damn things cost a fortune. The owner's got to pay for those million-dollar salaries somehow.

Immediately he starts sulking. "I never get anything."

"What? You just got to meet your hero and I got you an autographed ball! Plus three hot dogs! What the hell are you talking about?"

"Besides that," he said.

The other dads start laughing as I get up. I don't usually drink at games but I don't usually have to deal with this level of madness. I come back with a beer and he starts in again.

"See, you get beer, but I don't get anything."

"I need the beer."

"No you don't. You just want it. Like I want a hot dog."

"Trust me, I need it."

"Oh, dad needs his beer. He gets everything."

"That's it, give me the ball," I demand.


"Because I'm going to give it to a nice kid."

"No!" he shrieks.

"Then shut up and watch the game."

The boy gets up and wanders back a few rows to sit with some other friends where he blessedly remains for the next hour and a half. The game goes into extra innings and finally, close to midnight, we get back on the bus for the ride home. About halfway home he leans against me and starts to fall asleep, clutching his autographed ball. I look out the window and hope that his memory of the night will be like mine, softened into a story that I'll think about when my son takes the ball down from the bookshelf to show to his friends.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ask Me No More Questions

Thanks to the encouragement of Jennifer and Kathleen, I have decided to explore the psychology of the wonder we call "meat." Join me, please, on this voyage of self-discovery.

What Kind of Road Kill Are You?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Missing Outs

Tonight's game had the best play of the season. Our guys up by three runs against one of the two best teams in the league, bottom of the last inning, two outs, tying runner at the plate, our best pitcher on the mound. The batter drives a ball to the fence, the right fielder runs it down, wheels and throws it to Coach P.'s kid at cutoff, who throws it to the catcher in time to make a tag at the plate. We win and the kids pile off the bench, screaming with excitement.

That's what I'm told, at least. I didn't see it. I was at a meeting instead, a board on which I serve. I heard about the play from my youngest, from my Lovely Bride, from Coach P. who called after everyone else was in bed because he was still too jazzed up to sleep.

I used to have a job that I hated. Intellectually, I knew I hated it. In my heart, I knew I hated it. Still, in that part of myself that makes decisions, I didn't hate it enough to quit.

Then I got tickets to a playoff game for the team I'd been following for years, one I'd never seen in the post-season. Two tickets, just enough for me and my oldest. My other kids were too young to care. What I had in my hand were tickets to a lifelong dream.

The day before the game, a client called and asked me to come to a meeting. I liked this client, but I knew my presence wouldn't add anything. I tried to finesse it, tried to beg off, finally straight out asked if I could skip it, but the client insisted. I went to the meeting, sat through hours of discussion that didn't pertain to me, gave my thirty second spiel, and drove home embittered. A while later I quit, because I knew the job would always require these kinds of sacrifices, and there are only so many times you can take your son to see a playoff game.

So tonight I was disappointed to miss the play of the season, but I wasn't bitter. I'm on this board because it's work that has to be done and someone has to do it. My parents believed in volunteering and I hope my kids do too someday. The world doesn't run itself.

Tonight, the board went through its agenda. Much of it was mundane but necessary, the procedural niceties that don't seem important until there's a problem. There was a part of me that wanted to hurry things along, get out of there in time to see the end of the baseball game, but the board's work counts as much as my work as a coach, and I bit my tongue and asked questions and tried to help make good decisions.

When I got home, I
heard about the play from my youngest, from my Lovely Bride, from Coach P.

I wish I'd seen it, but I'm glad I didn't.

Bad Dog

Last night the youngest asked if he could go to a new friend's house to play. I'm always looking for a reason to get rid of my kids, if only for a while, so I agreed to drive him there. I thought the name sounded familiar, and when we got to his friend's I realized, yes, it was the local fundamentalists. Oh well, he needed a bath and a baptism would do the trick.

I went back to pick him up a couple of hours later and made small talk with the dad while my kid got his stuff together.

"You gave him a Bible name," he said.

"Yep," I answered, thinking, I didn't know "shut your pie hole" was in the Old Testament.

"That's great. You can tell a lot about someone by what he calls his children."

That's for sure. "Yep," I said again, a little more nervously. I don't like talking religion with strangers. It leads to nothing but trouble. My son was ready now and we left without having to delve any further into the issue.

Sometimes, though, I think I should do a better job of teaching our kids about religion, if for no other reason than to inoculate them against unwanted interference. As it is, I suspect they have some strange ideas.

Take this morning. The youngest is at the breakfast table when I come downstairs.

"Hey, bud, how's it going?" I ask.



He points to the newspaper. Ouch. Our team took a beating yesterday.

Our dog Katie stands up and nuzzles his hand. She's pretty good about trying to cheer up the boys.

"Hey dad, if Katie died would we get a new dog?"

"Are you thinking of killing her?" I ask.

"No, but you hate dogs so if Katie died you probably wouldn't let us."

"I don't hate dogs," I reply. Jesus, I spend a fortune on the damn thing. I should hate her. "Besides, she's not going to die."

"Yes she will," he says. "Everything dies."

Not the people I don't like. "She won't. She's Satan's pup. She'll live forever."

He grimaces at me and says, "Don't be stupid."

"It's true," I say, assuming my teaching voice. "When we decided to get a dog we drew a pentagram on the floor and cast a spell, just like 'Harry Potter.' There was a puff of smoke and then Katie appeared. It was cheaper that way, but now we have a hell hound living with us."

He's holding his hands over the dog's ears so she can't hear me. I talk louder.

"It also means she has a special kind of rabies. Most dogs have to bite in order to infect someone, but she's got special venom glands and she can spit like a cobra."

He's telling Katie she's a good dog and she should ignore me. Katie's on her back, happy for the attention.

I continue. "We've trained her so she doesn't attack the family any more, but it was touch and go for a while. In fact, you used to have a sister until the dog got her."

My Lovely Bride comes in to get Katie and the boy ready for the walk to school. She looks at me suspiciously as my son carefully stays between the dog and me. They leave, and I finish getting ready, confident that our little talk will help keep him the little skeptic I'm trying to raise.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Super Freaky

The middle boy had a soccer tournament this Saturday. Three games in one day, which is actually better than the tournaments that require numerous cross-town travel spread over an entire weekend. He's on a good team, playing at a pretty competitive level, and that can lead to a lot of driving.

His team had won this particular tournament last year, they're better now, and it was with high hopes that they started the first game. That was the problem. This group is notorious (at least among its parents and coaches) for overconfidence. The kids are older now, though, and there seem to be fewer of the emotional rollercoasters that haunted us in the past.

The first game went relatively well, ending in a 3-1 victory for our guys. The team walked off the field, happy. Perhaps strutting is a better word for it.

We're doomed, I thought.

And we were. The second game started soon after lunch. Our team was awarded two penalty kicks within the first few minutes and missed them both. Then the other team scored when our goalie mistakenly thought offsides had been called and didn't go after the ball. Although we were clearly the more talented team, we never really got back in the game after that and we lost, 1-0.

I'm sure it will come as a surprise that I have a hyper-competitive child on my hands. He was scowling as he walked across the field and he shook my hand off his shoulder as we sat down to wait for his last game to begin. Finally he snarled, "The officiating in that game was horrible."

"It wasn't that bad," I replied.

"You don't know anything. It was terrible."

I looked at him. "You know how you guys can win games like that?"

"How?" he asked.

"Score more goals."

"Shut up," he said.

I gave him a big hug, just to antagonize him, and wandered over to the rest of the parents, where we idled away the time making fun of one dad and his Blackberry. The sky was darkening and he was scouring the internet for forecasts until a mother suggested that it might be easier to just look up at the clouds. That prompted him to start offering unsolicited information about wind shear to a parent who was flying to Europe the next morning. It's amazing how much data on plane crashes can be crammed into five minutes.

The third game eventually began. Our team scored two quick goals, which seemed to bring them out of their funk. Just as half-time began, there was a tremendous clap of thunder and the rain began to fall.

As I've learned, much to my regret, soccer games get played in the rain. They don't get played in thunderstorms, however, and the referee called a 30-minute delay to see if the weather would clear.

Normal people would take the opportunity to sit in their nice dry cars. We, on the other hand, chose to huddle under umbrellas and watch our kids explore the woods behind the field. Woods that consisted of scrub trees and poison ivy. Probably ticks and snakes too.

Keep in mind that the team's uniform for the day was all white. The jersey was white, the shorts were white, the socks were white. That is, they were white until the boys started daring each other to walk across the log straddling a mud pit. By the time the adults realized what was happening there didn't seem much point in trying to stop it.

Meanwhile, my kid was poking around in some nearby bushes. Now, this group is a little different than my normal crowds. They seem nice enough for the most part, and a couple of my son's best friends are on the team, and I like their parents quite a bit, but there's also a very religious contingent. They don't preach, and they've never felt obligated to discuss my impending damnation, at least to my face. Still, they'll occasionally join hands in prayer at what strike me as unusual times, although at least they have the decency to avoid praying over soccer games. In any event, I try to clean up my act a little when I'm around them.

And there was my kid kicking at a bush when a squirrel ran out. "Holy freaking crap!" he shouts.

Every head turns toward him and then toward me.

"Hey, watch the language," I blurt in my best imitation of a good father.

"What?" asks the boy.

"Watch your language," I repeat.

He stares at me blankly and says, "I just said 'freaking'."

Super. He doesn't even know what the problem is. I pull him aside.

"You can't talk like that."

"What did I say?" he asks.

"You can't say 'freaking' in front of all these people."

"You say the real f-word all the time," he says.

"Only when I'm mad," I reply.

"You must be mad a lot," he says. Like this is news.

"I'm getting mad now," I say. "Just don't say 'freaking' anymore."

"Alright, alright," he says. "Don't be a spaz."

He goes back to his friends and I return to the parent clot, my sidebar with the kid apparently having reassured the others that I'm not completely hopeless. Little do they know.

The rain kept coming down, but more softly now, and as we waited for the referees to restart the match, the team began an informal game based on penalty kicks, headers, two goalies, four balls, and a lot of tackling. Soaking wet, streaked with mud, and just kicking around a soccer ball, for once without an adult commenting, instructing, or criticizing.

Finally the rain stopped and the kids drifted back into their normal positions, finishing up with three more goals. A good showing, but not good enough to pull out a first-place finish. No shiny things this weekend.

On the way home, I asked my son, "What was your favorite part of the day?"

"Playing tackle in the rain," he said, the loss forgotten now and unimportant. "That was freaking cool."

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sunday Morning Sausage Blogging

Besides democracy and Jet Skis, America is primarily known for its sausage. As important as that is to our national identity, however, we remain a federalist system, with the states playing an important role as meat laboratories. As we enter the summer months, prime sausage season, let us pause to pay homage to some regional delicacies.

1. Georgia Peach

The inspiration for the famed Aidells chicken and apple sausage, this down home favorite combines the lusciousness of ripe peach with the tart crunchiness of skink. Traditionalists prefer a hardwood casing, while the avant-garde of Buckhead's restaurant scene like to experiment with a variety of petroleum-based wrappings.

2. Down East Hot Tamale

A sausage still enjoyed in many of Maine's more isolated and well-armed coastal communities. Typically served in chopped form, this liver-based lobster byproduct is delicious sprinkled over pizza or angel food cake. When garnished with a porpoise, it is truly a mariner's delight.

3. Chicago Meat Pockets

When Carl Sandburg called Chicago the "City of Meat" he had in mind this hearty breakfast sausage. Composed of bacon, tripe, and mutton face, heavily seasoned with baking powder, and encased in nylon, it is the perfect beginning for a hot summer day. It is usually accompanied by a side of "cackleberries," the local term for whole boiled chickens.

4. Hang 'em High

Originally developed by the cowboys of the early 1950's, this treat remains a staple on soundstages throughout the Southwest. Partially deboned red squirrel, eucalyptus, and tin are layered over a graham cracker crust and baked in a kiln until the metal topping is bubbly and golden brown. It is often served with cheap English champagne.

5. Famous Potatoes

A product of the noted ant ranches of Idaho's gulf coast, this appetizer sausage has declined in popularity since the collapse of our country's domestic moose grinding industry. Nevertheless, many locals still look forward to February, the traditional month for enjoying this delicious medley of ungulate, potato, and mint. It may be eaten raw or lightly tarred.

It's often said that one shouldn't watch either sausage or laws being made. That may be true for laws, but anyone who spends time watching their local meat artist at work will come away with renewed sense of pride in our great nation. Let's hear it for the United States of Sausage!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Friday Afternoon Random Ten

Muskrat Love
- Captain & Tennille
Round and Round - Ratt
Chimes - The ice cream truck out front
Minnie the Moocher - Alvin and the Chipmunks
Metal Machine Music, Part III - Lou Reed
Hurt - Olivia Newton-John
I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener - Voices in my head
Incense and Peppermints - The Strawberry Alarm Clock
Peruvian Folk Song Medley - Ninon Vallin
007 (Shanty Town) - Perry Como

Rock on!