Friday, April 29, 2016

Out in Left Field

I was determined to post more in 2016 and did a pretty good job earlier in the year but, of course, now it's been a month and a half since I last checked in.  Go figure.  Life (lots of life happening), work and a little play.  

I'm sitting at Bongo Java at my favorite table up front, trying to steal 30 minutes on a busy Friday morning.  For background music, I'm listening to Escondido - "the Ghost of Escondido," which J.P., Joe and I absolutely have been wearing out the past month or so.  Great, great first album from a band based in Nashville.  It's been fun to listen to them, over and over again, in the truck with the boys.  I love it when we're all three into a band or an album at the same time.  It happened with the Drive By Truckers and their latest album, Jason Isbell and his latest album and now, with Escondido.

The song of my spring, actually, is Escondido - "Cold October."

On with the show . . . 

Tuesday evening, J.P. had a 5:15 p.m. baseball game.  Those games often are difficult to get to on time, as they occur right after work, traffic is a bitch, etc.  Still, it's great when everyone arrives at 4:45 p.m. because we have time for me to hit infield to the boys, which I love.  

The majority of J.P.'s team - the Dodgers - are 8 years old and I have coached 10/12 in the past.  So, there's a familiarity and an effortless rapport between us that makes it so easy to coach and teach them.  It's great to hit them infield, because they're finally at an age and experience level where we can get some good work accomplished.  

If I get to Heaven someday, and that's a big if, I'm hoping my  job assignment for eternity is to hit infield to 8 year olds on a beautiful spring evening.  For me, it's a small, small piece of heaven and earth.  I love it.

So, Tuesday night, it was the Dodgers vs. the Braves.  Pretty quickly, I could tell we were playing a good hitting, well coached team.  We were a coach or two short, so I coached first and chatted up some of the Braves' dads who were standing along the first base line, leaning over the fence.  Classic dad pose.  I could tell, as I talked to the dads, that they were a fairly confident group who didn't expect to see their sons lose.  

It was a great, competitive game until our boys scored 7 runs in the third or fourth inning to take a 13-6 lead.  As I talked with the Braves' dads, it was with more than a little pride that I answered their questions about our team - Where do your boys go to school?  How long have they been playing together?  Ultimately, the Dodgers won 16-9.

One inning, I played J.P. at pitcher.  It's a machine pitch league, so the pitcher is essentially a fielder.  J.P. made all three putouts in the inning and I smiled as his teammates chest bumped him in the dugout.  

What made the game memorable for me, though, was what happened in the last inning.  J.P. was playing second base and their were runners on first base and second base.  The Braves had scored a few runs to cut the score to 16-9.  The boys were pressing a little bit, I could tell, and there were two outs.  The batter hit a hard grounder to J.P. at second.  J.P., low to the ground, squared up an centered the ball, but it took a bad hop and hit him in the wrist, then chest.  Keeping his poise, J.P. calmly snatched the ball up and whipped it to first, beating the runner by a step for the last out of the game.  

As he trotted off the field, I could see he had a tear in his eye from where the ground ball had hit him on the wrist.  I stopped him, gave him a hug and said, "Are you okay?  Did the ball hit you?"  He looked up, a little defiantly, and said, "No, I'm fine," then ran into the dugout.  The boys lined up, said good game to the other team and ran out to left field waiting for me to run out to talk to them after the game, as is our long established custom.

J.P., my 8 year old son.  Tough guy.  Damn, was I proud of him.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Church of the Long Run

Some Sundays, I need to go to the Church of the Long Run.  Today was one of those Sundays.

I begged out of church with Jude and the boys and ran 10 miles on the muddy trails at Shelby Bottoms.  It was a glorious day for a run, with a bright blue sky above and the temperature in the mid-50's.

It's been ages since I've run 10 miles.  It felt so good to be back on the trails at Shelby Bottoms - a place where I've logged so many miles over the past 15 years - running long again.  I parked at the entrance to Shelby Park, by the tennis courts, and started on the trail by the dog park.  As I ran some trails I hadn't run in a year or more, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the days when I was on the trails, running long, every Saturday morning.

Kids, work, age, injuries and, perhaps, a lack of resolve have led me away from the long runs I used to get in so often, usually at Shelby Bottoms.  My weekly mileage has decreased as a result, and regular 20 + miles weeks have turned into 15 + miles weeks, if I'm lucky.

One of the ancillary benefits of deciding to run the Country Music Half-Marathon this April, after having taken a couple of years off, is its forced me to get back in the habit of running long again.  That's a good thing, for me, anyway.  I've realized, too, that it helps me tremendously to have a goal or an objective - like an upcoming race or a yearly mileage total to shoot for - as a means to motivate myself to run long.

Running long on a regular basis is an entirely different thing than running regularly.  Running long takes more of a commitment.  It's going to hurt, almost every time.  It's a mental and emotional test for me, too, every time, as my mind inevitably begins to tell me reasons why I should stop before I'm finished.  Somehow, my heart or my soul fights back, and encourages me to ignore that voice inside my head telling me to stop and walk.  When I win - when I finish a long run - it's such a feeling of satisfaction, more so than finishing a normal, shorter run during the week.  I've overcome adversity, again, and finished a long run.  It just feels good, and that feeling stays with me for the rest of the day.

It's a little bit selfish, I know, but  that's just part of the personality of serious runners.  It's a time commitment, one most runners are happy to make given the rewards.  I know it's a bit of an inconvenience for my family, though, as I'm usually skipping a family event - like church - or taking away from time I could be spending with them.  That being said, I'm a better version of "me" when I'm running regularly and running long.

I do my best thinking during long runs.  I clear my head during long runs.  I've said this before, I think, but I've composed entire eulogies and opening or closing arguments in my head, during long runs at Shelby Bottoms.  Seriously.  I think running long brings out the best of who I am and helps me figure out who I want to and need to be.  I feel closer to God when I run long, which means there really is something to this "Church of the Long Run" thing, for me, anyway.

So, I've finished my "Mood Elevator" and the boys and Jude will be waking from their Sunday afternoon naps any minute now.  Time to step off the front porch at Bongo Java on this beautiful "almost Spring" day and head home.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Basketball Jones

What a great sports Saturday!

This morning, I ran 9 miles with Russ and the boys.  Jude, J.P., Joe and I went to an afternoon Predators' game and watched them wax the Blues (final tally, 5-0).  J.P. and I left after 2 periods to go to his basketball game at M.B.A., where several of the fathers kept up with Vandy's 74-62 upset over Kentucky on our cell phones.  Then, J.P.'s team played a tough game, but lost 37-32.

After the first 2 games of the winter (WNSL) season, we (coaches and parents) decided to move the boys up to the 3rd grade (9 year old league).  The boys blew out the first 2 second grade teams by 35-40 points, which wasn't good for either team in terms of the players' development.

The boys are 1-3 or 1-4 against the 3rd grade teams, although all of the games but 1 have been close. It's amazing to watch them learning so much from game to game - things they never would have learned blowing out 2nd grade teams all season.  One of the things I'm the most proud of is even t though our boys are outsized every game, they haven't yet backed down and they're never intimidated.  They scrap and scrap and scrap, diving on the floor for loose balls and tying up the ball time and again.  Some of the games have been a little rough, which has been great for their development.

Today, late in the game, the boys were down 35-32.  "Coach Russ" substituted J.P. in, but first told him his only job was to foul whomever had the ball for the other team.  I was sitting at the scorer's table keeping score, so I saw - up close - the confusion on J.P.'s face as he tried to process being told to do something he normally would never try to do on purpose - foul another player.  There wasn't enough time for Russ to tell him why - to stop the clock and put the other player on the foul line, so the boys could get the ball back - and J.P. was thoroughly confused.  I almost laughed as I watch him try to bump with his chest the boy dribbling the basketball.

It dawned on me, then, that J.P. didn't know how to execute one of the most fundamental plays in basketball - fouling another player to stop the clock.  None of the boys knew how to do that, because they'd never done it and it went against everything they had learned about basketball to date.  He never got the foul and I could tell he was frustrated.

Also, "Coach Chris" was situationally substituting late in the game, offense for defense.  Winn, one of our better scorers, and 4 fouls, so Chris took him out on defense and put J.P. in, then took J.P. out on offense and put Winn in the game.  Normally, the boys platoon substitute en masse, so J.P. was confused about that, too.

After the game, on the ride to Sloco in 12South for dinner with a few teammates and friends, I explained to J.P. why Russ told him to foul and why Chris was putting him in and taking him out of the game.  He understood, after we talked about it.  A father-son moment, for sure.

It's funny, but so many of the intricacies of sports and the unwritten rules, I get to teach him those things.  He doesn't know them.  I have no recollection of how I learned them or who taught them to me.  And now I'm imparting them to him.  Pretty cool.

Just another sports Saturday.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Joe at 4

Saturday, Joe turned 4.  Damn.

We had a great day, with a party for him at Bounce U (aka "Concussion U") attended by his school friends and cousins Margaret, Lucy and Kate.  Afterward, we had a family party at our house.  It's nice to have room now to comfortably accommodate everyone, kids and adults, at an event like that.  I know that's something that means a lot to Jude.

We started off the morning with a trip to Pfunky Griddle for breakfast, at Joe's request.  J.P.'s buddy, J.D., came along for the ride on the tail end of a sleepover at our house.  Joe loved having J.D. along, as he looks up to him and, really, all of J.P.'s friends.  After breakfast, I slipped over to Cumberland Transit to pick up a sleeping bag to give to Joe for his birthday.  He always complains when J.P. has a sleepover and the boys sleep in sleeping bags, because he doesn't have one.  Problem solved.

After nap time, I took J.P. to his basketball game at First Presbyterian Church at 4 p.m., which also was the start time for Joe's birthday party at Bounce U.  Divide and conquer, as we're quickly realizing is the new normal with both of the boys getting involved in more activities.  J.P.'s game was great and after it was over, J.P., Jimdad and I rushed to Bounce U.  We got there in time to watch the kids play for a bit, then headed to one of the party rooms for pizza and cake.

After we left Bounce U., I picked up more pizza from Mafiozza's for our family party at the house.  We timed it perfectly and had a good meal together.  We had big kids playing and watching basketball upstairs (Matthew and J.P.), small kids playing with toys in the living room (Joe and Margaret) and even smaller kids crawling on the floor (Kate and Lucy).  Family.

Joe really got into opening his gifts, which was a change from Christmases and Birthdays past.  He had quite a haul, with books, Despicable Me Minions, etc.

Yesterday, J.P., Joe and I went to Rose Park after a family breakfast at Bongo Java.  We got in a good baseball workout, Joe's first that wasn't in the back yard.  It was pretty cool to be out on the baseball field with both of my sons.  Okay, not pretty cool, way cool as a in a dream come true for someone who is as big of a baseball fan as I am.  Belmont U was getting ready for a game, so the coaches set up the batting cage and let the boys hit out of it, which they enjoyed.

After church, Joe opened up the presents from Jude, J.P. and me.  The gift hit of the entire birthday weekend, without questions, was "Hockey Guys," a plastic hockey player set complete with a miniature rink, goals and puck.  He already has "Football Guys" (a J.P. holdover) and "Baseball Guys."  I don't really get it, but he loves all 3.  This morning, before school, he contentedly played a pretend hockey game on the coffee table in the den while I watched.  He kept up a running commentary between the players, referee and P.A. announcer.  It was really funny.

Joe and J.P. are alike in many ways, but different, too.  Joe is perfectly content to play or read by himself, for extended periods of time.  I don't recall J.P. doing that much.  Even now, J.P. is constantly asking what we're going to do next.  He prefers to have activities scheduled that usually involve someone playing something with him.  Joe is fine playing by himself.  I wonder if that will continue as Joe gets older.  I suspect it's a birth order thing, given that J.P. had Jude and me all to himself for the first 3 1/2 years of his life and Joe always has had to share us with J.P.

A great and busy birthday weekend.  Jude and I are blessed to have two healthy, happy boys.  Blessed beyond words.

Monday, February 15, 2016


When I turned 30, I arrived at work to find a bouquet of black, dead flowers on my desk and an inflatable doll sitting in my chair.  When I turned 40, I was out of the country with Jude, in Tortolla I think, or maybe Scotland.

And now I find myself staring down the barrel of 50.

In less than six months, on July 9, I'll turn 50 years of age.  I have no idea how I got here.  While I guess I knew (or hoped) I would get here eventually, I certainly didn't know I would get here so quickly.

I have a late birthday, so several of my close, longtime friends have already hit the magic number.  First, it was Mike, Darryl, Sistrunk, then Doug.  Over the weekend, I called Rip on his birthday.  His 50th birthday.  He was in Destin, visiting a friend of his who is terminally ill.  When I expressed my condolences, he responded, "Well, it happens.  We're at that age, you know."

We are at that age, for sure.  And I don't much like it.

There seems to be a certain amount of taking stock as one approached the half century mark.  Questions, lots of questions, at least for me.  What have I accomplished?  Where are my friends?  How do I measure up?  How is my health?  How do others see me?  Have I been successful?  Am I living the life I chose or the life that chose me?  Am I happy?  Do I love, or even like, my job?  Does my wife love me?  Am I a good person?  Have I made a difference?  What's left in the time I have?  How much time do I have?

A few months ago, Darryl called me at work and asked to go to lunch.  I hadn't talked to him in ages and in my line of work, a random call from a friend often means he (or she) is having problems at home.  We met at my office and walked to a nearby restaurant on Main Street in Franklin for lunch.  After exchanging pleasantries, we spent several minutes talking in depth about our families.  He and both have two sons, although his are significantly older than mine.

Finally, I asked him, "Is everything okay?"  He looked a little bit stunned, but replied, "Sure.  Everything is great."  When I told him why I had been concerned when he reached out to me, he laughed.  "No, no, no.  Missy and I are great."  I breathed a sigh of relief.

"What made you decide to call me?" I asked.  His response moved me.

"I just turned 50 and I started thinking about the friends in town - the ones who mean a to me - that I never see.  And that I wanted to see.  So, I called you."


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Remembering Winter Storm Jonah 2015

A few final memories, in photo form, of Winter Storm Jonah 2015.  Man, I miss the snow.

Saturday afternoon, the day after the Friday snow, J.P. and I met my buddy Russ and his family for an impromptu party at Sloco on 12th Avenue.  (Man, I love my neighborhood).  First, J.P and Cooper played chess.  Then, while the grownups had a couple of beers, J.P. and Cooper had an extended snowball fight outside, around the corner of the building.  We topped it off with Jenni's ice cream and banana pudding from Edley's.  (Man, I love my neighborhood).

On the spur of the moment, Cooper invited J.P. to sleep over.  The next morning, before church, Jude, Joe and I drove to Radnor Lake to meet Russ and the kids and get in a little more sledding.  To say Radnor Lake was beautiful that morning is an understatement.  The sheer beauty literally took my breath away.

Also, I got some great shots of Jude, J.P. and Joe on their sleds.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Joe Time

I worry sometimes that I don't get enough "Joe Time," when it's just me and him.

Most mornings, because I take Joe to Children's House, I do get to spend almost an hour with him.  That time is special, particularly when we go to Bongo Java and play "States Bingo" or watch YouTube videos of hockey players (Joe probably as watched "James Neal 36" one hundred times).  Still, many mornings it's a bit hurried, as Joe finishes up watching "Super Why" or "Bob the Builder" while I get dressed, then we're out the door to school. 

It was different with J.P., or perhaps I just remember it differently.  It seems like he and I did a lot of stuff together, just the two of us.  Before Joe was born and maybe for a while afterwards, J.P. and I went to Belmont U. after dinner.  There, we played outside when it was warm and inside when it was cold.  I think the idea was to give Jude some down time after dinner.  Once he started playing sports, there have been plenty of times when J.P. and threw the baseball or football together.  Thus far, Joe has been a bit young for that type of thing.

Tonight, Jude took J.P. to Governor Haslam's annual "State of the State" speech at the State Capital building.  So, I picked up Joe from Children's House and we spent the night together.  It was awesome, because he was in a great mood the entire evening. 

At his request, we ate dinner at Martin's BBQ Joint on Belmont Blvd. (where he ate his standard grilled cheese sandwich AND chicken tenders, which is a recent development).  Then, we stopped in at Bongo Java to see who was working (Rachel and Hunter) and say hello.  We walked across the street to Belmont U., rode the upstairs and threw the football in the atrium outside the Curb Center.  Just like in times past with J.P., students walking by smiled as Joe called penalties on me and solemnly announced them to the pretend "crowd" or punctuated a touchdown by spiking the football.  We checked downstairs to see if anyone was playing racquetball, looked in "Twana's store" (I wonder where she is) then drove home.

Joe and I watched a video of the song "Happy" on the iPad, then read two books.  Next, it was upstairs to brush his teeth and get his pajamas on, all without a bit of fussing.  We read another book, then I put him to bed on his "big boy" mattress on the floor (converting his toddler bed frame to a double bed frame is an ongoing project of Jude's).  He went right to sleep.  Amazing.

That's Joe Time and I love it.