Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Softball Wire

(sitting on my front porch, listening to James McMurtry's "Hurricane Party," enjoying a 69 degree night in mid-July)

As best I can remember, I started pitching a softball in 1986, maybe 1987.  Almost 30 years ago in intramurals at UT (Knoxville).  I learned from "Preppy" Drew Daniel, an older fraternity brother of mine from Americus, Georgia.  The beautiful thing about intramural softball in college was that if you could land the ball on a green rug placed behind home plate, the pitch was a strike.  It didn't matter how high you pitched the ball, if it landed on the rug, it was strike.

Well, we all have undiscovered talents.  Mine is the ability to pitch a softball 20 or 30 feet in the air and land it right behind home plate.  That's it.  I can pitch a softball like few other people I've come across.  I just can.  It's a ridiculous, useless skill in almost every way, but it's mine nonetheless.  And I've been utilizing it on softball fields in Knoxville (UT), Franklin (Fieldstone Farms), Brentwood (Granny White Park) and Nashville (West Park, East Park, Cain Ridge, Paragon Mills (once) and Shelby Park (gone but not forgotten) for almost three decades. 

Which brings us to tonight.

I had a "law league" (Nashville Bar Association) softball game against B-D at East Park.  It was just a normal, regular season game against a law firm with several attorneys who are friends of mine and who I respect a great deal.  At least it started out that way.

It was nothing and it was everything.

Jude, J.P. and Joe came to the game, as they normally do.  Jude brought cupcakes (it's my "birthday month" she and J.P. had made, which was sweet.  Having my family at my softball games is great, for so many reasons.  J.P. sits in the dugout during the games and it's awesome to watch him interact with my teammates.  After the games, J.P. and Joe take turns hitting and running the bases.  This year, J.P. slides into all of the bases and deliberately tries to skin his knees and elbows, which is a hoot. 

And, for me, one of the coolest things is knowing the boys are watching me do something I'm really good at it - pitching a softball.  I like that they can see their old man doing something remotely athletic with at least a fairly high skill level.  Okay, I don't like that.  I love it.

Tonight's game was a slugfest.  We were playing with only nine players and one woman, as a result of which we had to take an out every time the 10th spot in our order came around.  Still, we hit well and had a large lead until the last few innings, when B-D rallied and tied the score at 27.  We scored 3 runs in the top of the 7th inning before I grounded out to shortstop for the last out.  If we could hold them in the bottom of the 7th inning, we would win.

B-D loaded the bases with two outs, down by three runs and the winning run at the plate.  The batter (whom I hadn't met until tonight) was arguably their best hitter and had hit two home runs off me already.  My first pitch was a called strike.  Then, I deliberately pitched him outside on the second pitch.  He popped the ball up and as it spun backwards, almost foul, near the 3rd base line, I lunged toward it.  I dove for the ball and caught it, just off the ground, for the last out of the game.  As I rolled over in the dirt, I looked up, right into our dugout on the 3rd base side and made eye contact with J.P.  He grinned at me, pride in his eyes. 

J.P.'s old man can still play softball. And he was there to see it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Winding Down

(this is a post I drafted on my iPad a little over a month ago)

May 26, 2014

It's Memorial Day and I'm sitting inside at P.M., drinking a glass of white wine, listening to a Grateful Dead mix playing not so quietly in the background.  Interesting place, P.M.  Sleeping Joe is beside me, tucked away and dozing in the City Elite stroller (tip of the cap, again, to Baby Jogger, or #babyjogger, as we say in the "age of Twitter).

Things are winding down, or so it feels to me in the here and now.

Joe is almost 2 1/2 years old and my weekend afternoons with him in the stroller have dwindled to almost nothing.  J.P.'s baseball games on Saturdays inevitably intrude, as we scramble to find a suitable nap time and place for Joe.  Also, he's getting to the age where he naps really well in his crib.  It's a little easier for me to take J.P. on weekend afternoons, let Joe nap in his crib and give Jude a little well deserved down time.  It's been on the horizon for a while and, in truth, it's here - the end of my weekend afternoon strolls with Joe.  And it absolutely kills me.  I could write an entire blog post about it, and I probably will.

J.P. finished school at Children's House last week.  3 wonderful years filled with love, learning, laughter and the occasional tears.  Jude and I learned as much, if not more, than he did.  I suspect that's always going to be the case.  What a spectacular place for J.P. to spend his 3rd, 4th and 5th years, surrounded by friends and teachers who loved him every day.  The age of innocence for him (and us), is almost over and, to be sure, it went by far too fast.  All of J.P.'s K-club friends have scattered to the winds ad they prepare to attend different schools this fall.  Although I diligently tried to appreciate every minute J.P. spend at Children's House, I can't quite shake the nagging feeling that I took it a little bit for granted.  I find myself more than a little sad at the prospect of it coming to and end.  Winding down, if you will.

J.P.'s baseball team, with I coached - the Red Sox, completed or season yesterday.  What a great group of boys and parents, the likes of which I'm not sure I'll see again.  6U baseball is maybe the perfect youth sport.  Coach pitch (or tee ball, for the boys who struggle to make contact with the ball) allows me to develop a one-on-one bond with each boys, pitcher to batter.  It's special.  Everybody bats, nobody keeps score and nobody makes an out.  Perfect.  We're starting a 6U all star team next week and that's a totally different deal.  Winning and losing.  Succeeding and failing.  Making outs.  In a different context, the end of the age of innocence. 

In our last practice on Tuesday, J.P. bounced a ball over the centerfield fence during batting practice, which stunned him and me (gale force winds notwithstanding).  It was awesome! 

Jude and I have looked at houses, talked about renovating our house and poured over new listings e-mailed to us by our realtor.  Our time in our house, at least as it's currently situated, is nearing an end.  We may renovate our house, we may sell it and buy a new one or we may sell our house and buy and renovate a new one.  Whatever happens, our time (almost 12 years0 in the house Jude and I bought on the eve of our marriage, the house in which we've laughed and cried and into which we carried both of our boys in a car seat as they arrived home with us from Baptist Hospital - well, it's winding down.

Now, Joe's nap is winding down.  He's starting to stir in the stroller.  Time to walk down to Bongo Java, so I can have a sippy cup of mile ready for him when he awakes.  And then, a nice stroll home, with Joe and I talking to each other all the way.

Life is good.

Friday, July 4, 2014

4th of July

It's July 4th and I'm sitting on my front porch in the fading twilight, listening to fireworks explode, near and far, with Sly and the Family Stone's "It's a Family Affair" as background music from a party up the alley across the street.  I just took my first sip of a Yazoo Hefeweizen, fresh from a growler I filled up this afternoon at the Yazoo Brewery on Division Street.

Just another summer night in the city, albeit a summer night that feels like early fall.  For some crazy reason, the high temperature today was 81 degrees - on July 4th!  Right now, it's 71 degrees.  The crescent moon is peaking at me between the leaves of my stately old maple tree and crickets are chirping loudly.  The boys are already asleep after a busy day and Jude is upstairs, reading in bed.

It's evenings like this that I'll really miss if and when we move out of the city.  I love the city sounds.  I love the physical closeness of my neighbors - next door, across the street or up the alley.  I love the sound of cars driving on Elliott Avenue in front of my house or up and down Acklen Avenue around the corner.  I love the sound of Engine #8, sirens blaring, when it leaves the station to go on a run.  I love all of it and I'll miss it terribly, I know.

But, I digress.  Busy, busy holiday today. 

This morning, I strolled Joe down to Sevier Park to meet Jude and J.P., who were playing tennis.  While Joe and I played on the playground with dozens of neighborhood children and their parents, J.P. defeated Jude in 3 "sets." (they have a unique scoring system in their tennis matches that I don't quite understand).  Jude and the boys strolled back home while I picked up lunch at the "secret Subway" around the corner from Belmont U. 

We ate lunch on the front porch and played a variation of a game we invented long ago, when J.P. was 2 or 3 years old.  We watched for cars passing in front of our house, with J.P. getting one point for every gray, green or white care and me getting one point for every red, blue or black car.  Sadly, he beat me 12-9, even though I thought I had stacked my lineup by choosing red and blue.  Who knew that almost everyone drives a gray or silver car?

At J.P.'s suggestion, we reenacted "the Music City Miracle" in the front yard over and over again, taking turns playing the parts of Lorenzo Neal (who fielded the kickoff and pitched it back), Frank Wycheck (who caught the pitch from Lorenzo Neal, ran to the right, then passed the football back across the field) and Kevin Dyson (who caught the pass and ran behind a convoy of blockers to the end zone.  Eat your heart out, Bills' fans, IT WAS NOT A FORWARD LATERAL.

Watch it right here!


When Jude put Joe down for a nap, J.P. and I went on a hike - our first hike ever - in Shelby Bottoms.  It was really, really cool spending that time with J.P. and showing him the trails where I have probably run a thousand times over the past decade.  I don't get to Shelby Bottoms as much as I used to, but I love those trails.  J.P. raved and raved about how much fun it was to hike.  In particular, he liked how peaceful it was walking through the woods ("Beaver Woods," actually - I learned that today looking at a map of the trails with him).  For me, it was just really good father-son time, just the two of us.  Not watching a game on TV, not playing with the iPad or reading a book, just walking through the woods with backpacks on our backs. 

Toward the end of the return leg of our hike, he started to get tired, which was understandable, since we hiked 4+ miles.  Still, he held up like a champ.  When we arrived home, he talked Jude into playing soccer with him in the backyard.  It's crazy how much energy he has. 

For dinner, Jude cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, which were delicious.  Then, a final walk around the block, baths and bed.

That's a full day, don't you think?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Postscript for the Dodgers

I'm decompressing after a smoking 3 mile late night run in the 'hood (right at 8 minute miles), listening to "The Head and the Heart's" self-titled 2010 debut album.

The WNSL Dodgers 6U All-Star team played it's last game this afternoon.  Where to begin?  Where to end?  I'm not sure, but I do know I want to get my thoughts down while it's all still fresh in my mind.

I'll start with today.  We lost in 8 innings, 30-25, to Nolensville, playing a game that lasted more than 2 hours in 95 degree heat.  To say I was proud of my boys is an understatement.  After the game, when I sat them all down in the dugout and talked to them a final time, I got choked up and my voice caught a couple of times when I told them how proud I was of them for competing under such difficult conditions.  We were down by 5 runs, 25-20, in the bottom of the 6th inning, then rallied to tie it up with J.P. on second base.  Brennan Ayres got a base hit and his dad, coaching third base, sent J.P. home.  I so wanted J.P. to score the winning run and when he was tagged out at home, my heart sank. Extra innings and, ultimately, we lost the game in 8 innings.

I gathered my assistant coaches and the other fathers in left field and asked them if they wanted to play our second game against Bellevue.  After a brief conversation, we agreed it just didn't make send to have our boys play a second game in the heat, after they had already been out there for more than 2 hours.  So, we forfeited and didn't play the second game (against Bellevue).  It was the right call to make, but I still felt a little conflicted. 

3 tournaments in 4 weeks.  Was it worth it?  Before this weekend, I would have said "no," unequivocally.  After this weekend, now that it's over, I would say "yes."  Now, that doesn't mean I would do it again, knowing what I know now.  In the end, though, I'm glad J.P. played and I coached.  I think I learned more than he did, which is about what I thought would happen.

What will I remember most?  The boys, of course, whom I loved like they were mine (which they were, for a month, anyway).  J.D., Will, Win, Cash, Drake, Logan, Aidan, Cooper, Wes, John, Brennan, Benton and J.P.  Each and everyone of those boys is special, but for different reasons.  They had fun, which is what I wanted and all that mattered in the end.

It was a little more intense than I thought it would be, which surprise me a bit.  Too many silly rules, too, and too many parents who were way too serious about 6U coach pitch baseball.  Not so much on our team (with one exception), but on other teams for sure.  Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Baseball requiring coaches to wear uniforms in the district tournament was silly (and I looked ridiculous).  Too much yelling and screaming at the boys - Run! Stop! Throw it! Call timeout! Slide!  It was just because the coaches and parents were excited, but still, a little too intense.

Here's the bottom line, though.  When J.P. and I were driving home together from Grandpa and Grandma's house after going for a quick swim (with J.P.'s teammate, Win), I asked J.P. if he had fun.  "Yes," he said immediately.  I continued, "Which did you like better?  Playing for the Red Sox or the Dodgers?"  "The Dodgers," he said.  "Why?"  I asked.

His reply?  "Because it was more like real baseball."

That's all I needed to hear.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Guys


J.P., teaching Joe to drink from a cup, outside Athlete's House.  Priceless.

Nanny Maghan

Nanny Maghan and Joe, hanging on the front porch.