Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Little Red Machine

After blogging about Eldest's baseball experience (as well as mine as an assistant coach), I decided to write about my five years playing organized baseball as a kid. Long ago (the mid-1990s), I wrote about two of these seasons, so I will dig those up and transcribe/edit/add/revise when I post on those two seasons. This post will be about my first season, in 1978 on the Reds.

We had moved into our new house in 1977, and my new friends, especially Marc, loved baseball and collected baseball cards. Even before we had moved that spring, I was started to become interested in baseball, so my interest exploded that summer. I had played basketball for two seasons at Norwood Park, so my father signed me up for t-ball in the spring of 1978 and bought me a glove (mass-autographed by Mickey Rivers!). I was placed on the Reds.

The team was coached by a couple teenagers, including the older brother of one of my teammates. I don't remember many of my other teammates, except we had a big third-grader named Kyle who was our power hitter and we also had a couple girls on the team. Did we win more games than we lost? I don't really remember, nor do I remember if I was a good hitter off the tee or not. I don't think I stunk, but I'm sure I didn't hit it that far considering how small I was when I was 7.

I do remember a play in my first game. I was playing right field, a kid hit a grounder through the infield, it came to me, I picked it up and threw it to Kyle and got the kid out. I didn't know that outfielders don't normally throw out runners at first, but I guess I was just paying attention enough to throw it to first instead of second. A decade later, I saw Andre Dawson do this for the Cubs -- surely he got the idea from a heads-up t-ball player years earlier!

I liked to play catcher that season, which was mildly useless in t-ball. I think I just liked putting all the equipment (kind of similar to Elde right now, but at least he has to try to catch the ball). I remember two notable misplays from my time behind the plate. Once, the batter (who I recognized from basketball at Norwood Park) hit the ball, started to run right as I stood up to get into the infield, and I accidentally tripped him. Oops, catcher's interference, and a pretty severe interference at that. The other play was one a ball got hit right in front of the plate. I picked the ball up, but instead of tagging the batter with the ball or the ball in my glove, I just tagged him with my hand. I didn't realize that didn't work to get someone out. I figured, if I'm holding a ball and step on a base before the runner gets there, he's out, so why can't I simply touch the runner since I'm connected to the ball?

Our last game of the season was to be played at Thillens Stadium (we actually got two; I'll explain more later). Thillens was the highlight of the season -- an actual baseball stadium with, as our coaches put it, a beautiful sandy field (in reality, it was just groomed like a professional diamond, but I had the image of a beach before I got to play there) -- quite a difference from the t-ball fields at Norwood Park, including one behind the field house on which the league put a fence up in right, not for possible homers, but to protect kids from running into a group of trees (I looked up the park on Google Maps -- the trees are still in right field!). Most of the individual park baseball leagues had a Thillens day -- usually the last day of the season, culminating with the championship game (I doubt we even had playoffs in t-ball, but for older kids, playing for the title at Thillens was amazing -- more on t in another post).

Thillens was as good and fun as advertised. We played games on both diamonds there, and in our last game I was so into the game, waiting on deck a patted a teammate on the backside to wish him luck. I saw Major League players do it all the time, so why couldn't a kid who loved baseball do so as well? I felt a little embarrassed after I saw my coaches laughing, and I haven't done it since.

We played two Thillens games that year because of a tragedy that happened in an older baseball division at Norwood Park. A 10-year-old boy was sliding at home, took a relay throw from the pitcher right in the chest, and basically, his heart exploded. He collapsed and never woke up. (After Googling the kid's name, I found a description of what happened that night written by his older sister; I hope she won't mind me linking to it.) The league was in shock; the whole city was in shock. I don't know how much my parents and coaches told me about what happened, but the tragedy was in on the news and in the Tribune. For years in the Norwood Park trophy case, a tribute to Bobby Roggatz was displayed (I wonder if it's still there). The Thillens family was so moved by the tragedy that it gave Norwood Park an extra day in the stadium.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first year of organized baseball, and the tragedy a boy dying at home plate didn't dampen it. I'm not sure if, at age 7, I didn't quite understand the implications of a kid dying on a routine play, or maybe if I did get shielded by it enough by my parents. The freak accident didn't make me want to play baseball any less -- I didn't come away afraid (playing baseball would scare eventually scare me, however). But 33 years later, that tragedy is what I remember first from that season.

The incorrect tag is second.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Play ball!

Eldest has been playing baseball this spring, and aside from some bruises from getting hit with a ball (during batting practice and while catching), he's loved it. His league is machine pitch -- an adult puts the ball into a pitching machine, so each kids gets the same speed of pitch in about the same spot. He's hitting the ball OK, probably batting about .300 this season. He's on a fun, not-as-serious team (we have faced some teams that likely play in more than one league and had boys with better batting stances than me), and the kids are getting better in the field with each game.

I'm helping coach Eldest's baseball team, and I must admit, I've loved it. Perhaps I like it because I'm not head coach and don't have to deal with the logistical details that I do with soccer and basketball. But I think the main reason is just getting out onto a baseball diamond in the spring -- it's taking me back to playing baseball as a kid (and to an extent, playing softball in my 20s). During practice the other day, I realized this. The sun was shining, the field had that fresh dirt smell, and the sport was low-key, unlike other sports in which the kids are always moving. Baseball is active and relaxing at the same time.

At the last practice, Littlest was helping by being a baserunner. He loved it, and the head coach let him bat at the end of practice. On his second pitch, he got the bat around and got a little hit! Watching both boys play baseball over the next several springs is going to be fun.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Weekend at Joey's

Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching. The first unofficial weekend of summer. Going from the Friday of this weekend in through the Monday of Labor Day weekend, summer is 102 days long. I want to cram as much fun and activty into those 102 days as possible.

Just not this weekend.

Memorial Day weekend as a kid usually included baseball, a barbecue at my grandmother's house (an aunt and uncle both had birthdays around this weekend), warm weather and the WLS top 500 songs of all-time. As I got older, Memorial Day was a weekend Wife and I were always on vacation, trying to take advantage of the holiday to get an extra day of vacation. With us pushing our big vacation into July since the kids were born, Memorial Day weekend returns to being about no work, some sort of radio music extravaganza, and the knowledge that summer has arrived.

Alas, the last few years, the weather has not cooperated, and it's not supposed to cooperate this weekend in Utah again with three days of rained forecast. I would be bummed about that if I wasn't looking forward to a Saturday with no baseball, soccer or work (or some combination thereoff -- for the first time in weeks. Though our outdoor choices may be limited, it's just that: choices instead of commitments. The commitments aren't necessarily bad or undesired. But one weekend with just choices, with freedom to do whatever we want, will should be re-energizing, particularly after all the birthday stuff, school and sports of the past few weeks.

That said, I'll be happier if the sun's out this weekend. The first days of summer should feel like summer.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hip and uncool

I did something to my hip Saturday, and I can't figure out what. I was in between coaching soccer games, I took what seemed like a normal step, and suddenly, my right hip below the corner of the hip bone started to hurt. It's been sore since, and my lower back has tightened up in overcompensation.

I don't think it's anything severe and is merely, as my Wife put it, a side effect of being 40 -- occasionally, these unexplained aches and pains make an appearance. I did a hard boot camp workout last week that might have strained something that took three days to actually hurt. I don't know. I do know I'm annoyed. I wanted to run this weekend but couldn't; I could have done some yard work yesterday but couldn't; and I have to conduct a soccer practice today and don't know how. I want to get out and move but can't.

My hip is feeling better today, maybe because I did some light housework and, as Wife theorized, worked out some of the lactic acid. But I'm still hobbled. I don't feel 40. I wish my hip currently thought the same way.

Friday, May 20, 2011

High 5

Littlest's birthday week is finally nearing an end. The week started with nice weather, continued with two fevers, two quick recoveries, Littlest's final day of preschool, Eldest's first day of swim team practice and Littlest's birthday, and concluded with Littlest's birthdat party. Yes, it was a whirlwind week, and not quite over, either, if you consider the two soccer games, one baseball game, a block party and a work shift Saturday.

Amidst all this is the amazing realization that Littlest is now 5 years old. He had so much fun at his party today, and was so enthusiastic and genuinely thankful when opening his presents. His first five years have been quite a ride. I'm thinking the next five will be as well.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shuttle to shuttle

Thirty years ago, on April 12, 1981, I woke up early, turned on the TV in our living room while it was still dark outside and before anyone else in my family was awake, and watched the first space shuttle launch. This was the second morning in three days I had done this -- the launch was postponed two days earlier. But not this morning. I warmed up some homemade waffles my mother had made the night before for dinner, cozied up on our living room couch, and watched the launch. I kept watching afterward, eventually falling back asleep as Columbia continued its first orbits of Earth.

I wasn't alive or old enough to watch the first flights into space or the Apollo missions, so watching the space shuttle launch for the the first time was really my Neil Armstrong moment.

Thirty years later, I watched the second-to-final space shuttle launch with my sons this morning. (I had thought this was the final launch, but it turned out it was just the last Endeavour launch; Atlantis has one more.) Wife alerted me and the boys that this was happening, and luckily, I was awake to see it (and we both admitted afterward, thank God nothing bad happened on this launch, a la Challenger -- I would have hated if the boys' first time watching a shuttle launch resulted in a tragedy).

Over years of watching so many launches, the excitement I felt as a 10-year-old is long gone ... until today when the clock was counting down, the last few seconds as the boosters fire up, and Endeavour lifted from the pad. And maybe it was thinking this was the last shuttle mission reignited that thrill again. Or maybe it was just watching the launch with my sons, knowing this was their first time seeing a space shuttle take off.

Hopefully, whatever method to send Americans into space follows the shuttle program won't take long so that the boys can still enjoy watching a launch while they are still boys. And if not, at least they can remember this morning.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The crazy days of May

May is halfway over. The weather has finally improved to the point that it feels like spring, and leaves have finally sprouted from the trees. Littlest has two days of preschool left, while Eldest has about four weeks of first grade remaining. We're in the middle of two soccer seasons and Eldest's baseball season. We've attended class picnics the last two Saturdays. I've been busy with freelance projects.

Yes, May, my favorite month of the year, has been a blur. At least the weather finally got nice, though sunny days have been interrupted with March gloom (including a thunderstorm yesterday that canceled Eldest's baseball game). Today was good -- the sun was shining, the temperature was warm, and I worked in the yard for a long time, mowing, weeding, pruning and watering. The boys played with their friends on the block outside. I managed to get out running this morning.

The blur continues this week with Littlest's birthday. I don't want May to end this quickly, right when I'm just starting to enjoy it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Station to station

I'm always surprised where and when small memories of my childhood seem to pop up. Last month, it was in my son's CCD folder.

Eldest was given some Lent and Easter materials in his church school folder on Palm Sunday, and Wife took that stuff out last week before his first post-Easter class. Among the things in his folder was the same Stations of Cross booklet my own grade school used back in the 1970s.

Titled "The Way of the Cross for Young Christians," the index card-sized, 32-page booklet is used for Stations of the Cross -- a Catholic church ritual devoted to path Jesus took after getting his cross to his eventual burial. The booklet, aimed at kids, adds a 15th station -- Jesus' resurrection, possibly to give the story a happy ending to kids following along. Each station started the same:

V. We adore you or Christ and we praise you.
A. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

A description of the particular station followed, with a prayer for children to recite afterward. The illustrations within screamed 1960s youth literary art -- not surprising this booklet was first published in 1970.

Every Friday during Lent at St. Eugene's, we sat in church for Stations. And we read from these booklets,usually stored in a white box stashed in the bookshelves underneath the windows and adjacent to the heating vents. Years, decades later, I remembered those booklets and wondered if they were online as a .pdf file, or even on eBay. But I never remembered the title of the booklet and never got anything by just searching for "purple Stations book."

Turns out, I didn't have to search the Web to find this book again -- I just needed to wait for my own kids to start taking religion classes. Before leafing through the booklet again, I started recalling the format, picturing all the illustrations, and even remembering that the 12th Station (Jesus dies) didn't have an accompanying prayer (this was problematic when later in my grade school years, each grade read two of the prayers, and the fifth grade had to come up with its own prayer so it wouldn't get short-changed).

What I'm amazed about is that 40 years after being published, this might still be the best option for kids to learn about the Stations of the Cross. The illustrations are hopelessly dated and not as relevant as they were last century. For example, some of the illustrations depict kids smoking, a girl putting on lipstick, or a black kid being kept out of a volleyball game. Decades later, the temptations, injustices and concerns for kids definitely differ, if not have become more horrendous. Seriously, what's a bigger issue today: girls using lipstick or cyber-bullying?

Anachronisms aside, I'm still floored that I encountered this booklet again. Friday Stations weren't all that bad -- we got out of the last 45 minutes of our school week, and with Lent starting in winter and ending in spring, the five Lenten Fridays (excluding Good Friday, on which we were already on Easter break) passed as the seasons changed. There was nothing like getting outside on a Friday after Stations, and starting to the weekend, to a sunny spring day.

I'm wondering what the next St. Eugene's memory will suddenly show itself -- or which one I might have to seek. My sister is nostalgic for the orange songbooks we used for Mass. These were also usually stored underneath the windows in the bookshelves in front of the heating vents. We can still sing some of those songs (e.g., "Whenever we're together, in cold or stormy weather, you know we can't go wrong if we sing our song, blessed be God forever."), but I'm stuck on one thing: the name of the songbook -- because typing in "orange Catholic hymnal" doesn't work.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Back in business

My blog is back. Hurray!

Several days ago, a phishing e-mail that popped into the account connected to The 43 was apparently flagged by a spambot (an automated program that looks for spam and robo-posting) and shut me down. After a couple hoops, my blog was restored, and after many crazy days last week, I'm finally posting again.

Spring finally arrived here in Utah, although the few sunny days we enjoyed is giving way to a few rainy/chilly days again (just in time for Mother's Day). But leaves are finally sprouting on our trees, and small blades of grass are just beginning to poke through on our lawn where I put down some EZ seed. May is going to be busy, and our summer is taking shape. The last few sunny days, though busy, have been fun and a nice reminder that spring has been worth the wait.