And That’s The Game

Ever have one of those days where you look at your kid, and find yourself completely overwhelmed at how much you are in love with him? That was my yesterday.

Major League Baseball is just opening up.  Stadiums are empty, even the play-by-play and color commentary guys are banned from traveling, but plate umps are calling “Play ball” across America.  For $50 you can purchase a giant likeness of your face to contribute to the illusion that fans are in the stands, and at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, you can even see stands filled with virtual, digital fans.  Crowd noise is piped in, cheering when the home team lines one to left. And I want to know who got that job?  It’s someone’s actual job now to select the appropriate “crowd noise” when a batter hits or misses and determine the organist’s rally cries via some iPod playlist made possible only by the dumpster fire we call 2020. Anyway.

The MLB’s truncated season got underway the very weekend my baby’s season had come to its end.  That there was a season at all for youth baseball was event enough, here in the the world of COVID-19.  Though the world had been shut down, youth baseball somehow found its way to daylight.  The season was short, cancellations abounded and disappointment ran rampant, but our younger son, to my great surprise, got in two months of ball, and that meant that so did I.

You may wholly disagree with our decision to let our boy play, and that’s your prerogative.  Science is real.  If you think we weren’t nervous to send our baby to his first team practice back in May, or sit along the first base line those early few games, think again.  But this team made a commitment to our son last August, as did we to them in return, and we felt bound to honor our commitment to have him play.  Rules and spaces were changed to accommodate social distancing.  Spectators were to be limited in number, and everyone I saw respected space.  There were no hugs, no high fives.

Youth baseball being open created its own set of losses and casualties.  My son has seen his best friend only once since ball opened.  Honestly, I wondered whether he would choose hanging with his best friend over baseball with an entirely new-to-him crop of kids.  I fully understand his BFF’s mother’s decision to disallow them to hang once our son’s baseball practices opened up our formerly 100% quarantined social circle.  The good guys in green and gold lost their home diamond to city and county park closures, so league schedules were cut and tournaments axed.  Thunderstorms were our constant summer companion (only on game days though!) to a point I actually wondered if the weather knew something we couldn’t.  Maybe those flood- and lightning-forced cancellations would have been fraught with exposure risks?  We’ll never know.  We got what we got: twenty-two forays around southeastern Wisconsin.  And we were grateful for them.

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He even got to pitch once.

No one on or related to his team became ill or has tested positive for coronavirus.  Maybe we were lucky, but you know what?  Luck has been in short supply at Chez Weir this last year (or five. . .), ya know?  My son got to play a game he loves.  We got to meet new families whose goals mirrored ours–to give their sons the opportunity to play the game they love.  Prior to the season, you may have heard me say that I wasn’t interested in getting to know a whole new group of parents, that this season was a one and done, and I didn’t need to become chatty with the other baseball parents.  But man, I’m glad I was and I did.  We were told that the vibe on my baby’s new team was chill, and the reputation was well-earned.  Really good people cheering on everyone’s kid, finding something good to say about every kid, every game.  There were cocktails.  There were laughs.  There were wins. Victory all around.

After yesterday’s final out (with my boy on deck!), I had that teary-eyed moment I expected, and that my kid openly and loudly asked me not to succumb to. “Don’t cry, Mom!”  But I always cry at endings.  Even good ones.  And this was a good one.  This ending also marked the end of an era for us.  After six years of travel ball, my little one is heading to high school now where he will be playing high school ball for the Huskies next season.  Whole new dynamic, whole new color scheme.  Whole new world of baseball-less summers-to-come for his dad and me.

My son’s season isn’t one for his record books, but he played hard.  He worked hard and improved his game.  He had fun!  In the “Do you feel like you have to play ball or do you get to play ball?” he got to play ball this year.  I’m proud of him for the player he is, and more proud for the teammate he is.  He’s compassionate (you should have seen my boy when a teammate went down after taking one to the face), and he’s as happy for a teammate when he lines one as when he blasts one himself.

I don’t often ask, but I needed a photo to mark this ending.  He played along.  Of course he did–he’s that kind of teammate.  I love this child, you just don’t even know.

It’s the bottom of the seventh, game over, so line ’em up, boys.  Tip your cap (because in the age of COVID, you don’t shake hands to acknowledge your opponent), and say goodbye.  I’m really gonna miss my boys of summer.

 

 

You’re A Turd

Not YOU, you’re not a turd.  That your web browser has stopped on my little sanity-extending creative writing space says everything I need to know about you.  Except you weirdo spammers.  Actually spammers, your random, poorly-translated blog “feedback” and insults tell me everything I need to know about you too.  Still, I wouldn’t hurl insults back at you, and certainly I would not stoop to name-calling.  And of course were I to stoop, hypothetically speaking naturally, I wouldn’t scream “You’re a turd” at you.

But that didn’t stop the opposing coach Sunday morning.

I wrote previously that my younger son has begun his (not-fall) fall ball baseball season.  Fall ball isn’t about championships, or even wins necessarily, but yeah, of course, the kids and coaches want to win.  Winning is more fun than losing any day, even if you’re learning something valuable in the loss, but it’s not the point.  The point is to get some playing time in, try kids out at various positions, find where the new players gel best, and mess around with the batting order.

Also NOT a turd—it’s my baby pitching on the full-size diamond. Photo swiped from another team’s fall ball photo collection. This man is a much finer photographer than I.

“Play ball!” was the cry at 8:00 AM Sunday morning.  By, oh I don’t know, 8:07 maybe, the good guys were working up a 2-out rally, quite successfully.  #7 got the sign to steal third, ran like the wind, and narrowly avoided the tag.  I can see him still, legs splayed up in the air, hand reaching and holding onto third base like it was his job.  Because it WAS his job.  He slid under the tag, the ump declared him safe, and an uncomfortable, quiet type of chaos commenced: the opposing coach flipped his lid.

To be clear, the coach wasn’t quiet; everyone else was.  Hollering at the field umpire from the dugout was not a close enough distance apparently to express his, ahem, dismay.  He took to the field.  The ump warned him to get back to the dugout, a directive to which Coach Chaos felt disinclined.  He continued to hurl insults loudly and repeatedly, and after what felt like hours (because watching a horror show unfold feels eternal) but what likely lasted a mere thirty seconds, his butt got tossed.  I can’t recall if the first “You’re a turd” came before his ejection or after, but a second helping of that same incantation was served from the dugout as he made his leave.

The field fell silent.  Say it with me real sing-song like, friends: awk-waaaard.

It was beyond awkward on our side of the ball, but theirs?  Not so much.  My baseball mom friends and I were speaking in hushed tones, barely moving our lips, hoping that our faces carried the tone of what is happening here?? voice we dared not speak.  Once Captain Inappropriate finally simmered down, it was business as usual.  Not that I was staring at their bleachers, but it appeared to me that no one paid the outburst much mind.  Not one parent told him to clam up and act like an adult; not one chided him or really even seemed to pay much mind.  Business as usual.

Um, no.

I want no part of this brand of business as usual.  Coaching is hard!  My son’s coaches do what they do, investing inordinate amounts of their time and energy to help my son and others become a better ballplayer, a good sport, and a decent young man.  Coaches do what they do without pay, and too often probably, without so much as a “thanks.”  They get on the kids when a bonehead play calls for it, they yell sometimes, sure, and they probably use some colorful language here and there.  It’s frustrating when kids err, and it’s frustrating when the opponent gets stinkin’ lucky.  It’s frustrating when the ump blows a call, which they DO–because umpires are people, fallible, imperfect people–but EVEN when you’re frustrated, you don’t make a spectacle of yourself, behaving like an impudent toddler.

Pro athletes balk at the “you’re a role model by default” expectation placed upon them by the nature of their being a public figure.  But a U13 youth baseball coach?  You’re a role model.  Your kids deserve better, and their parents should demand it.  You’re not Billy Martin or Earl Weaver, and your kids aren’t Reggie Jackson or Bryce Harper.  They’re goofnut 12-year-olds busting their butts to have some fun playing the game.  Kids who giggle hard when they hear an adult call the ump a turd though, for sure!  But kids, when asked if they’d want to play for that type of coach respond emphatically: ABSOLUTELY not.

This guy though?  I bet he is a riot in real life!  And despite these made-for-TV conferences on the mound, he’s probably a pretty good sport.  

For the record, the good guys took it, 6-5.

Broken Spanish Isn’t Super Helpful In Quebec

They say the best way to experience a city is through the eyes of its citizens.  That being the truth or not, I had the terrific good fortune to have experienced Montreal through Chantal’s eyes.  Actually, back it up a minute: first and foremost, I have the terrific good fortune to call Chantal my friend.  She and I met because of a shared concentrated hobby (deep, abiding admiration for Barenaked Ladies), and here I found myself a few years hence, visiting her hometown.

Chantal and her daughter, Emily, scooped us up Saturday morning, showed us all the things tourists want to see, but perhaps don’t due to their distance from centre-ville (that’s French for downtown, see how multi-lingual I am now?).  Intrepid driver she, Chantal braved highway and road construction that abounded at every turn.  Every.  Turn.  You guys, I live in a winter climate.  Snow removal damages concrete and asphalt, I understand that, so I’m not unaccustomed to summer road construction, but Montreal??  They own, and I mean OWN, messed up construction traffic.

We hiked to the top of Mont Royal to see the cross, a tourist spot which also apparently is a hot spot for public group sex.  I swear I am not making that up. Read here if you don’t believe me.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to suffer bearing witness to this, and instead witnessed stunning views sweeping over the city in a verdant park.

I began this post thinking I’d detail the natural beauty and history of Montreal and Quebec City.  But the last game of my kid’s baseball season is looming, and I’m feeling emotional and thankful, so I’m focused on thankfulness.  I hope Chantal and Emily know how much we appreciated their time and local expertise, and most of all how we appreciated their company.  I don’t think I can thank them enough with words, so I’m hoping they can read my heartbeats.  Merci beaucoup and much love!  xoxo

The Queen of Quebec

A deep, sincere merci beaucoup is due to the dear lady who walked us all the way from the Gare du Palais in Quebec City to our hotel.  All the way.  Up a hill.  In the driving rain.  Did I mention the hill was steep and Mother Nature welcomed us with a monsoon?  Exiting the VIA Rail station in Quebec City, we encountered something of a downpour.  *ahem*  We stopped to ask assistance from one of the few pedestrians we encountered.  I’m one weak-ass polyglot, and when she or anyone greeted me with “bonjour” or “bon soir” my default was “hola” or “buenos dias.” So embarrassing.  Anyway, I attempted speaking to her in the very broken Spanish in my command, because I’m an idiot!, which was less useful than the little English in her command.  Apparently I can only second language in first-year college Spanish.  English was more effective, but she couldn’t quite direct us to our hotel with words.  We offered a weak merci, and changed direction.  Before we even got to the corner, she sped to catch us, then said something like, “I show you.”

And she did.  She accompanied us–saturated, lost, oh-so-obviously-tourists the kilometer or so to our hotel.  I can only imagine how pathetic and tired we must have appeared to her that she made it her job to deposit us at the Hotel Palace Royal.  We got near, and we thought we recognized the hotel from photos.  I said (OK, I tried to say) words to the effect of “we can take it from here,” but she insisted.  I felt in that moment like she was a mama wildebeest and we were the wildebeest babies she was bound to deliver across the river.  She was determined to get us there, like it was her sworn duty.  She marched (and y’all, this was not a leisurely stroll, no, she was hauling!) us to the literal front door, bid us adieu, and tears of intense gratitude stung my eyes.

A thousand thanks would feel inadequate.  I didn’t feel desperate exactly, though I surely wasn’t confident I’d locate and check in to our hotel in any sort of timely manner.  This lady, whom I’ve dubbed The Queen of Quebec demonstrated unbelievable kindness.  We made her day more difficult, surely more uncomfortably wet, yet she did something good for strangers just because.  I really hope karma takes good care of my queen.

Muchas Gracias

At this moment, I’m sitting atop my bed in a Crystal Lake, IL hotel.  Tomorrow is my son’s final baseball game of the season.  We’re here for the Summer International Classic, a tournament fielding teams from Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, and the US.  It’s been almost exactly a year since my son joined this team.  In this time, he’s improved as a ball player, earned a few more Ws than Ls, had a great time with his teammates, and I’ve been made welcome into the Criollos baseball family.

My son was the only non-Latino or Hispanic child on the team, and you know what?  He didn’t even realize it because you know why?  He was becoming an improved ballplayer, winning a bunch of games, and having a great time with his teammates.  There is nothing so pure as kids playing a game they love.

There were moments I didn’t understand what was being said and I know I missed more than a couple jokes over the year, but there is no one I’d rather have spent summer with than my baseball family.  The coaches and my baseball moms are worth more than these piddly thanks I’m able to write.

I’m going to cry tomorrow, I know I am.  I’m tearing up already just thinking about what’s going to go down at around 10:30 tomorrow morning.  Muchas gracias por todo, Criollos family.  Thank you.  Merci beaucoup.

Cons & Pros

I meant it when I wrote last week that I don’t get lonely.  Once I graduated college and dismissed the misguided, princess belief that having a boyfriend was the key to avoiding loneliness, I truly haven’t felt lonely.  I also haven’t enjoyed much alone time in my adult life, but those conditions are not equal, lonely and alone.  They’re quite different.  I like being with people, and I like being with me.

Alone time last weekend provided me time to do everything and not much of anything. I’m working through some cerebral work stuff, trying to see the donut rather than the hole.  I’ve been compiling lists of pros and cons–what I can control, how I’m hoping to behave, and how I can roll with the changes.  When futility set in, I set work worry aside and compiled a sillier list of cons and pros, light bulbs that flickered while my boys were road trippin’.

Con: The boys experienced an epic road trip without their mother. I missed them.  Pro: The sections of the house I deep-cleaned stayed clean in excess of sixteen minutes.  They missed me too.

Con: My idiot dog woke me up before 5:30 AM five days in a row. Four of those days were not work days.  Pro:  I top my dog’s favorite person list these days. Wait, that’s only an intermittent pro.

Con: Being the only dog walker.  Pro:  I crushed my 10K a day step goal every day.  Caleb got together for a puppy play date with his girlfriend, Nala, and her person Kathie.  Super, ultra mega pro: Day drinking with Kathie. Me, not the dog.

Con:  Ugly crying watching I’ll Push You   Pro: Watching the documentary I’ll Push You, and knowing television and remote were mine, all mine. Muwaaaahahaha!  I’ve been feeling a little “humanity sucks”  and “people are just despicable” these days, and this documentary shares a tale of a friendship like no other, introducing viewers to the finest, most compassionate, caring individuals who evince the absolute best in random strangers.

Con: My baby missed his Sunday baseball tournament.  Pro:  Game time temperatures hovered near 100 degrees, so I didn’t have to mom-worry about heat stroke or hydration for my boy. I still went and scored two of the games (Not well though, I’m afraid.  I was, for about 3 hours, convinced I was having a stroke, but we’re going to go with “heat-affected” or possibly “dehydrated”).  The boys cemented a third place finish, and I was happily surprised to bump into E’s coach of the last two years.

Con: My baby’s disappointment at not being part of the tournament or getting to chat with his former coach.  Pro:  He was super excited for his teammates’ success.  Also, this text message is a next-level pro. I texted my kid a hello and a little exchange from his former coach.  My son’s response whispers to me that we must be doing something right.

Con:  Missing my family.  Pro:  Being content without them.

Con:  The eventuality of the credit card statement.  Pro:  A trip of a lifetime for them all–a bargain at any price.

Solo: Me, Not The Movie

This afternoon my husband, one of his brothers, a brother-in-law, and the Yahoo Brothers (my sons) embarked upon a 5-day, 4-game tour of east-of-home Major League Baseball ballparks. They’re swinging through Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, then back through Detroit on Memorial Day. I couldn’t be happier for them.

I am home alone. Well, with my idiot dog (and you know I do looooooove him and his squishy face!), so not alone-alone. But I am responsible for no one but myself for five days. I don’t know where to begin. Actually I do: I began with a good-bye note to the boys–and yes, I know my handwriting has become atrocious, made worse by this giant spiral for a teensy notebook written in by a lefty!

They each responded, I presume on their way out, with a quickly-jotted note, surgically precise in perfection befitting each of their personalities and styles–my sweet, sentimental baby; my teen, with whom I trade “punk” designation several times daily (it’s a term of endearment, for reals); and the one who got me into this mess in the first place, my dear husband.

I continued with a list of stuff I thought it would do my husband well to remember, traversing south, east, northeast, then west and back. Five grown-sized men sardined in a mid-size SUV requires a special brand of patience probably. Also, Febreeze probably.

I took Sparky for a long walk. I cleaned a bathroom, I finished my book, I called and cried my way through a conversation with the boys’ piano teacher, I walked the dog again. I noticed that two of our hanging flower baskets have been stolen, and I decided that people suck. I’ve done a lot, and a lot of nothing this evening. I’m awaiting proof of life from the Fab Five, so wanting to hear someone’s voice–this stolen flower baskets deal left a pain in my gut.

My big kid says he won’t miss me (oh, that big sentimental lug), and that I’ll be happy to have the house to myself. Yes. And No. I’m never lonely, and I do covet being alone, that is accurate, but of course I will miss them. This weekend isn’t about the mom though, it’s all about the baseball. Baseball is life. Baseball is a metaphor for life. I’ve even heard it said that life is a metaphor for baseball. Though my kid will not be playing ball this week, his mom is going to his team’s weekend tournament. Baseball IS life and FaceTime is a thing.

There’s nothing left to say but have a terrific time, my loves! You don’t have to miss me.  It’s OK, it’s how it’s supposed to be.

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PS–it’s freaky how closely my Bitmoji’s hair looks like my actual hair.

 

Three Little Words

Not those three little words.  I present the three words no baseball mom ever wants to hear: Season. Ending. Injury.

OK, six: Little League Shoulder.

Little League Shoulder is a thing.  In the medical community, it’s scientifically known as proximal humeral epiphyseolysis. Little League Shoulder is caused by repetitive force across the growth plate ball end of the upper arm bone causing it to become irritated and sometimes widen, as you can see below.

 

Not long after opening day, during which he pitched his usual, consistent game, my son casually mentioned that he “threw out his arm” in gym class.  I actually chastised him a bit, scolding that he had no business gunning wiffle balls at such velocity in gym class.  I’m certain of a few things: 1) At 5′ 7″ he is by far the tallest, strongest kid in fifth grade, 2) He’s one of only two kids in his class who play organized ball and have any experience throwing an actual fastball, and 3) It’s something of a dick move to use an arm like his against classmates in a dodgeball-style playground game.  I’m not entirely sure I enlisted the phrase “dick move,” though I can’t exactly rule that out.

Shortly thereafter, he drifts into something of a batting slump.  He lacks the concealed-by-a-smiling-face-fire he’s usually possessed of at the plate, and strikes out a bunch.  A bunch.  A “good” outing maybe was a dink grounder that squeezed through or pop up.  His coach doesn’t have him pitch at that weekend’s tournament, and I’m relieved.  That Sunday, he lifted himself out of the slump by hitting one over the fence.  This is not the rarity it was at age 10, and though he’s eleven, he plays with 12-year-olds, many of whom look like they possibly drove to the games themselves after they shaved that morning.  Still, at age ten, eleven, twelve, a homer clears the dugout and lifts everyone’s, less the opposing pitcher’s, spirits.  It’s special.

He’s called to pitch again.  To say it was hard to watch is generous.  He was awful.  And I mean that with love.  He was awful.  My right-down-the-middle kid was skipping ’em a yard before the plate; he was sending air mail to Saskatchewan; he was walking in as many as hit him or as he hit with a pitch.  He looked befuddled by the lapse and felt like he was letting down his teammates.  He met the same fate the next time he was called to pitch, so thankfully his coach pulled him right quick that evening.  Last year, my kid was his coach’s go-to guy.  He was consistent, reliable, and for ten, quite unflappable.  Now?  He’s crumbling up there, looking to be on verge of tears at every throw.

He’s a giant, so he’s often the first baseman.  It’s a good fit for tall kids who mostly can catch the ball.  But they needed someone on third–a position he used to LOVE–so his coach sends him to play third.  He couldn’t make the throw to first.  Like not even close.  And we’re yelling at him to hustle, to get his head out of his butt, act like he’s got even a vague recollection of having played the game before.

And FINALLY, now like six weeks after the gym class incident, he admits what we surely know: I can’t throw.

So I take him to his pediatrician who has him go through a throwing motion, and she hears and sees the pop.  Not good, she observes.  She hypothesizes it’s a ligament problem, and refers us to sports medicine.  Sure, he can still play.  Give him ibuprofen before his games, slap some ice on afterward, and we’ll see what sports med turns up.  In the two weeks between those two appointments, he plays eleven games.  Plays conservatively, solidly at first base and has probably a .666 batting average during this run.  Maybe even .750.   My baby was en fuego.  He was.  And yeah, I’ll brag on him here because his bat was out of control.  You can’t help but smile when other teams’ coaches yell “back up!” to their outfielders.

Last Sunday he reveals that even tossing the ball around the horn between innings hurts, and his arm feels sore all the time.  *sigh*

I could sense that the sports medicine staff knew exactly what was wrong before he removed his shirt for the start of his functional assessment.  The x-rays confirmed “Little League Shoulder” and the doctor told my kid, “I really hate to be the bad guy here, but this is a season ending injury.   You cannot throw with an overhand motion until I clear you, and we’re looking at about 2-3 months before you’re back at full velocity.”  There were more words than that–the doc was an amiable and pretty cool guy, but that message was both the alpha and the omega.  My kid’s a junior power hitter, but even if you have but a passing acquaintance with baseball, you know that throwing is a rather key element in the game.  So no defense.

They described how physical therapy would play out, which made sense, and that REST and a follow-up x-ray was imperative before he could even begin PT. The doc asked if my son had any questions.  He stewed for a minute, but came back empty.  “You can’t throw” I said.  “You can’t play first even.  You can’t play defense.  Do you understand?”  He nodded that he did, and what did I do?  Yep.  Cried.  But only a little because I’m a badass baseball mom.

They remarked that his scapulae “winged out” a little, and I almost pooped my pants on the spot.  Naturally (well, naturally for crazy me) I jumped straight to FSHD, Facial-Scapular-Humeral Muscular Dystrophy.  Because during the past half hour I received not great news containing the words scapula and humerus.  And you guys?  I can’t even.  So I won’t.  Not today.

I spoke with his coach yesterday morning.  “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” was my opener.  “Can he still hit?” was his reply, and I swear that kid (he’s 24 I think, and I don’t really think of him as a kid though I could totally be his mom) could not have chosen better words for me in that moment.  It made me laugh and warmed my heart to hear that his coach hoped his highest batting average hitter could keep hitting.  He has a soft spot for my kid, and though I know he’s not supposed to, I love that he does.  Pretty sure he had some notion about the shoulder thing anyway, having pitched through college himself before destroying his own shoulder.  Yeah, he can still hit.  You may have to tape his arm to his side in the dugout, but he’ll be there to finish out the season.

He’s part of a team, and you don’t quit on your team.

Maybe that is the moral of the story here–that you don’t quit on your team, you contribute in the ways you can.  Or maybe it’s that you REALLY have to tune in to your children, because they will NOT admit to the severity of a weakness if they think they might let you down.  Every time until the very end, when we or his coaches asked, my kid said he was fine.  “No, I’m OK” was his refrain until he really wasn’t–and really?  He wasn’t from the first moment he injured his arm. Eleven-year-olds don’t understand that childhood injuries can mean chronic pain as adults–how could they possibly?  Eleven-year-olds want to have fun, they want to hit the ball and cross home plate.

Please, whatever you do to send good will to the world?  Send up a little wish, prayer, intention, ray of light that the moral of the story isn’t that we were given an early sign of another form of neuromuscular disease.  I want to keep our record at .500 here.