There’s no crying in baseball


Spring Break was quiet this year. The Dude had a lot on his mind, with college decisions looming and even more importantly, the fate of his NCAA bracket. Apparently, he does his best thinking while sleeping.

In prior years, he and I would take at least one academic-enrichment type field trip, usually something required by one of his teachers. To compensate, I’d take him to an exhibition game at Nationals Park. Last year, however, we spent the entire break visiting universities, and with the general chaos of our summer, didn’t get to a single game all season.

Baseball has always been the connection between me and the Dude, although sarcasm runs a close second. With spring in the air, I figured a visit to the ballpark was in order. I went online, bought the tickets, and we were set to go.

The weather couldn’t have been better for a game. The sun was bright, but a slight breeze would keep it cool enough for comfort. The Nats were up against the Mets, not the best team on the planet, but with the Nats bullpen, we were bound to see someone great. Maybe Scherzer, or Strassburg, or even Fister. The Dude and I were amped. We chatted on the Metro in while he texted his friends, while he informed me he was a master manipulator.

“You have the face of a bunny rabbit, Dude. Honestly, you could be a human Peep.”

“That’s what makes me so dangerous,” he said in his best Batman voice. “I live in the shadows.”

“You make me so proud.”

We talked about our favorite baseball moment. Red Sox/Nationals Exhibition game, 2012. Bottom of the 9th, Red Sox were ahead by one. Danny Espinosa crushed one to the outfield. The Nationals fans jumped to their feet as the Red Sox fans slumped in their seats. As Ian Desmond rounded third, Jacoby Ellsbury fired a cannon to home plate. It was like watching in slow motion. The crowd went quiet for a moment, then the ump called him out, reversing the crowd reaction with one simple gesture. Maybe today would be full of memories like that one.

He told me he loved going to games with me, because he could actually pay attention to what was happening on the field without getting distracted by conversation. I took it as a compliment. I’m much the same way. If I wanted to chit chat during a game, I could watch it on my IPhone for much less than the price of a decent ticket.

A young man stood by us in the car, thumbs a blur over his phone, much like my son. He looked familiar.

“Dude, isn’t that…?”

“Yeah.”

“You could say hello.”

“I have. We’re texting.”

“You’re five feet from each other.”

“He’s with his mother too. It’s better this way.” As his friend left the train (using a different door than his mother did), they gave each other the bro five. “I told him we were going to the game. He never told me where his mother was taking him, which means it’s something lame like a museum.”

We barely noticed how empty the train was until we were the only people exiting at the station.  I checked the tickets.

Crap.

The game was one week later.

I was an idiot. I should have double-checked, read more closely. I was too focused on what I wanted to do that I didn’t focus on what I was actually doing.

I expected the Dude to give me an earful. If the roles had been reversed, I would have. I might have even cried for effect.

He surprised me. He shrugged and gave a bummed but not fatal, “Well that sucks.” He was being very understanding. Still, I hoisted a bag of “I should have knowns” onto my shoulder, and braced for the lecture. The Dude knows how they go–he’s heard his share. Instead, he asked if there was something else I wanted to do instead, “you know, ’cause we’re already in D.C.”

“You’re taking this rather well.” He’s not a toddler, so I didn’t expect a meltdown, but I thought at a minimum he’d be annoyed.

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Like leaving his coat when driving into a snowstorm, forgetting to take out the garbage, or leaving something behind at school for pretty much all of seventh grade. Things we still give him grief about. Things I’ve blogged about.

We decided on the zoo, since the day was so beautiful. It was packed with strollers, tour groups and screaming children. The zoo loses a lot of its charm when one is there with a teenager. Even more so if that teenager is taking Environmental Science.

“Look long and hard at that tiger, Mom. Who knows how long until they’re extinct. Just like the rhino.”

“You’re an upper, Dude.”

“Just tellin’ it like it is, Mom. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

Since we weren’t at the game, he actually talked–mostly about college. He had finally made his choice, but it was a difficult one, and he wasn’t at peace with it yet. He hated the process of declining acceptances, saying it was like letting some potential future go. He was still worried that he’d do something wrong, make a mistake, choose the wrong place, miss out on something great.

So we talked about how decisions become mistakes only with the benefit of time and a lot of assumptions. In reality, we can only judge one outcome. We have no perspective on the alternative. What would our day have been like had I looked more carefully? Would we have done something else, or would he have slept late while I sat at my computer? We wouldn’t have had the time we were sharing right now. Even if it wasn’t what we’d planned for it to be, we took what we had and made the most of it. While I would have loved to go to the game, I treasured the day exactly as it was.

He’ll never know what might have happened if he’d chosen a different college. The best he can do is embrace the choice, explore its possibilities and move forward. Most of all, he needs to be as understanding of his own mistakes as he was of mine. Maybe I could do a little of that myself.

We still get to go to the game too–only this week instead of last week. It all has a way of working out in the end, if you let it.

It’s your game, Dude. Play ball.

He can drive away, but he’s always with me

wet socksThe Dude got his license this week and has been driving himself to  various activities. Nothing too far or too stressful, for him. For me, it’s difficult to know that he’s out there on the road. I trust him. He’s a good driver. It’s all of the other idiots out there that worry me.

Part of my sadness, however, is knowing that he won’t need me to drive him around as much. Nothing gets the Dude talking more than a car ride.

Don’t look at me!” he says, peeling his socks off his feet.  He’s been running baseball drills in wet grass for the last three hours, and his team was caught in a torrential downpour. Now that he is done for the day, it is perfectly sunny.

Socks discarded, he wiggles his toes. His feet are white and pruney.

“DON”T LOOK AT MY FEET!” He says it with such vehemence, I say okay and turn on the car like I’ve been hijacked by the child mafia. “Move this car, lady, or you’ll be swimming with the goldfishes.” I ask him what is so terribly wrong with his feet that I can’t see them.

“I look like a cadaver.”

“How on earth do you know what a cadaver looks like. It’s not like you’ve seen one.” I realize I haven’t either.

“Yes I have. Crime shows always have dead people in that room with the table. They always focus on their feet while everyone else talks.”

The room with the table? “You mean the morgue?” I really need to pay more attention to what he’s watching on television.

“Yeah. The place with the drawers. I wonder if people ever sleep in there.”

Sometimes I wonder if I should be afraid of the thoughts he doesn’t share with me. He’s maturing in leaps and bounds. Between having a job and his motor-aided freedom, the traces of child are so much harder to see.

“The kids think they’re so smart, but they aren’t. I asked them which team plays at Fenway and they didn’t know.”

“We live in Virginia, Dude and they are eight years old. Cut them some slack.”

“I asked them who plays at Yankee Stadium, and they didn’t know that, either.  They answer every question with the Nationals or Bryce Harper. Some kid knew the Tigers play at Comerica, though. That was really random. Kinda freaky, actually.”

Being a Godzilla-obsessed eight-year old was a lifetime ago for him. For me, it was just yesterday.  I can still hear his voice, an octave higher, No Mom, that’s MechaGodzilla 2000.

At lunch, the camp counselors ask baseball trivia questions. Correct answers get you a baseball card. On Friday, the kids get to trump the counselors by bringing their own questions.

“You should hear the trivia questions they come up with.” This should be interesting.”Which pitcher holds the record for the highest number of strike outs in a single game without ever having won the Cy Young award.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“Cy Young.”

I find this absolutely hilarious. He does not. It is the kind of thing he would have done–to find a way to outsmart the grownups, to beat us at our own game while making us love him even more at the same time.

He’s hungry, so he asks me to take him to McDonald’s. He’s stripped off his shirt, which is dripping wet. It joins his wet socks on the car floor. I order the food, and as we’re pulling up to the payment window, he starts to duck down in the front seat.

“I don’t want them to see me.” We’re back to that again? “I don’t have a shirt on. I look like an idiot.”

“Yes, by all means, duck. I’m sure that won’t make you look nearly as idiotic as just sitting there.” I tell him to sit up or I’m going to eat his french fries. “After all, you don’t want them calling the police about the crazy lady with the cadaver in her car.”

He doesn’t find this hilarious, either. At least he’s not willing to show it.

I remember half-day Thursdays in Boston when we’d get the car washed and get a Happy Meal.  I know those days are gone, not that I miss the cheap plastic toys cluttering my car. Now it’s just water bottles and damp socks. He may be closer to man than child, but that child still holds my heart in his chubby fist. I know I need to say goodbye, but I’m not ready yet. I wonder how long I can withhold the car keys and keep him home with me.

I watch his face as he eats his first french fry, and I see it. The child is still in there, somewhere. For today, that’s enough.  The memory will linger just like the scent of fast food in my car.

He catches me. “I thought I told you not to look at me.” But he holds out a french fry and smiles.

Just try to stop me.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Wet Socks” by Brian Sahagun © May 2011 Creative Commons

Karma may be a bitch, but she’s a funny one

CIMG7347The dude is working this summer as a counselor at a baseball camp. He’s coaching the five and six-year-old boys along with another high school friend.  His first day went well. On the ride home he was full of parenting wisdom.

“It’s all about the C’s, Mom. Calm, Consequences, Consistent, and Carry Through.”

“I see.” It’s not that he’s wrong, mind you. His theory is valid. I’m just amused that he thinks he invented it.

“You have to tell them what behavior you expect, and what will happen if a they don’t comply.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“You calmly give them a warning, and if they do it again, they sit out their turn at bat. They hate missing their turn at bat,” he says.

“I expect they do.” I’m not sure if the Dude remembers that I managed the dugout on his first tee ball team. I made them sit it batting order. If they got up, they lost their place. It was the only way to keep some semblance of order. At least at six they don’t eat sunflower seeds. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the dugout otherwise. I think they like the spitting more than the seeds.

“And when I want them to listen, I do the quiet coyote.” He makes a shadow puppet of a dog with his hand, opening and closing his fingers. “You see, quiet coyote. Mouths shut.”

“Have you ever heard a coyote, Dude? They howl. They used to hang out in the forest preserve behind our apartment in California. It would have been more quiet to have a frat house back there. “

“It works, Mom.” He’s offended by my lack of faith.

“I’m glad to hear it. Maybe you’re some sort of child whisperer.”

“That sounds seriously creepy Mom.” He’s right, it does.

The next day when I pick him up, he looks a little haggard. He’s also a half hour late. I’m not mad, because I know exactly what has happened. The first day the parents are always on time. The second day, they drop them off a little earlier, and pick them up a little later. By the end of the week, I suspect I’ll be waiting in the parking lot for quite a while. It’s okay, I bring my Kindle.

“The last Mom was so late! I thought she’d never get here.” I don’t say anything, because once or twice, I’ve been that Mom. Not often, but I try to cut the unknown mother some slack.

“Her kid is SO obnoxious. He yells, and he’s always right, even if he’s wrong. He’s like ‘but he’s out’ and I’m like, ‘but you have to tag the runner, and he’s like ‘but I touched the base,” and I’m like ‘he doesn’t have to advance if there’s no runner behind him, so you have to tag him when he’s not on a safe square.” The Dude alternates a high pitched whine with his calm, C-master voice.

“Did you show him the quiet coyote, Obi-wan?” He gives me the look. “I’m just asking.”

I hate to tell him the minute the third kid showed up he and his friend were already outnumbered. I tell him that it will get better. I neglect to mention that next week it will be a whole new batch of kids and he’ll start at ground zero again. I’m proud of him for having a job in the first place. I’m counting on it. I need new material.

“It’s still the best job ever, but it’s only Tuesday. I reserve the right to vent.” I nod and smile at him. He smiles back. It’s silent for a moment as he contemplates the day.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Dude.”

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you.”

“Consider it Karma.” He doesn’t say it, but I know he’s thinking that Karma’s a bitch, but he’s not sure if I’ll think it’s funny if he says it. I do, but I’m glad he doesn’t say it anyway. It means he still cares about my feelings. For the mother of a sixteen-year old, that’s a triumph on its own.

“Just don’t write about the really embarrassing stuff.”

You can count on me dude. I’m one quiet coyote.

Words and pictures by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Along the Fence” © 2012

The Baseball Game

bleachersTop of the fourth. The score is 5-3. Maybe. No one in the stands is exactly sure except for the woman in the third row. It’s 4-3. Top of the fifth.

“We have more runs than that. I know we do.”

“I really think Dustin looked that guy back. He didn’t score.”

“It is the fourth isn’t it? Or is it the fifth?”

A cell phone rings and seven people reach for their pockets and purses. The six people without a ringing phone look disappointed. The seventh talks, oblivious to the setting.

“That was definitely a strike.”

“The ump is being generous.”

“How are Aunt Helen’s hemorrhoids?”

The batter sends a fly into shallow right field.

“Call it! Call it!”

They may be in high school, but they won’t call it, thinks the woman in the third row.

“Did you try giving her prunes?”

Three players stand in a circle and watch the ball drop. The crowd groans.

“Fundamentals Bobby,” a woman shouts. “You’ve got to remember fundamentals!” Bobby’s middle finger twitches.

“Mom! I’m hungry,” whines a teenager.

Her father sighs and pulls out his phone. “Siri, where is the nearest Chipotle?”

Another phone rings. Five people reach into their pockets and purses. The lucky winner answers. It’s a call from the office.

“Well you tell Lorton he’s full of shit if he thinks I’ll settle for that!”

“You can’t leave Aunt Helen in the bathroom alone.”

“And two cokes with that please.”

“Does anyone know what the score is?”

“5-2. Top of the fifth.”

“8-4. Top of the sixth.”

It’s still 5-3, top of the fifth, thinks the woman in the third row.

A man nudges his wife. “I don’t see Calvin. Are you sure this is the right game?”

She rolls her eyes. “He’s the tall blond kid.” That phrase describes half of the team.

“Cover the base, Bobby!”

A small child runs back and forth in front of the crowd. His mother tries to wrangle him in.

“If you don’t stop, we’re going to the car.”

“And some guacamole too.”

“Lorton can kiss my ass.”

The toddler’s mother shoots the man a disapproving look. He shrugs an apology. The little boy continues to run in front of the bleachers.

“Kiss my ass, kiss my ass, kiss my ass.”

We need a toddler whisperer, thinks the woman in the third row.

“Alright Calvin!” the Dad yells.

“That’s not Calvin, that’s Riley.” She rolls her eyes.

“Bobby, are you sleeping out there?”

Bobby yells from first base. “Mom, will you please shut up?”

“Don’t talk to me that way!”

Please shut up, thinks the woman in the third row.

“No biting. If you bite me again, we’re going back to the car.”

“She has one of those blow up doughnut thingees? Why doesn’t she use that?”

“What is the score?”

“11-1”

“8-4.”

“If you bite me one more time we’re going back to the car,” says the toddler’s mother. Again.

Please, please bite her, thinks the woman in the third row.

The teenager returns, Chipotle bags in hand. She knocks her coke over onto Bobby’s mother.

“Try epsom salts.”

“Fax it to my home office.”

“Kiss my ass. Kiss my ass.”

The boy at the plate hits a screaming line drive.

“Way to go, dude. Run! Run! Oh yeah!” The woman in the third row stands and pumps her fist. “Who’s your Daddy?!”

The crowd is silent.

The woman in the third row sits down.

“For the record, I know who his father is.”

Bobby’s mother turns to Aunt Martha’s niece. “Some people just don’t know how to behave at the ballpark.”

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Fall Bleachers” by Nick Weiler © 2008 Creative Commons

Take me out to the ball game, a.k.a. Red Sox, suck it up and get it done.

I usually write about parenting, writing, and the scrambled thicket of life. Not today. Today, I write about baseball.

I love baseball. When I listen to a game on the radio, I remember lavender skies that never seemed dark enough at bedtime. I think of nights so hot that a sheet was too much to bear. I’d listen to Ernie Harwell call the game, and the cool timbre of his voice would be enough to lull me to sleep. I hear the hum of my Dad’s mower, and smell the clean grass and watch a cloud of crickets rise with each step forward.

Growing up in Detroit, I knew the heartache of rooting for a team that was great, then bad, then good, then really bad.  When my son was young, we lived in Boston, in a time before the curse was broken once and then again for good measure. It was like I was meant to be a Sox fan. Watching the games together reminded me of everything I love about the sport. See the picture? That’s my basement wall. I painted it myself.

The last two summers it’s been hard to be a Sox fan.  It’s not that they are losing, although it’s definitely not fun to watch your team suck week after week.  It’s that they are no longer the team that I love.  They’ve become one of those big budget monolith teams that buy what they want in a cycle of endless name brand players who never live up to their hype. They’re sort of like the Yankees, only under .500.

I used to know every player in the roster. They had distinct personalities. The game had character.  I’ve been turning off the games, not so much because we’re losing, but because I’m bored, and I can’t believe I’m saying that. I’ve defended my love of baseball to everyone else who says they can’t stand it because it’s dull.

So here’s my plea to the players. Stop blaming it on the management, and the owners and the press. Sure, they aren’t helping. They aren’t making good decisions. But they pay you, they don’t own you. Your attitude is yours and yours alone. You get millions to play a game you supposedly love.  Could you at least look happy to be there?

Not feeling it? Join the rest of the world. We learn to fake it. You can too. Better yet, don’t, or give your job to someone who can’t wait to get in that uniform. I’m sure there’s a line. This is what the rest of us hear every single day–there’s a line forming right behind you to take your job. And we hustle to get it done. We put aside the fact that the dude in the next office is a mouth-breathing idiot, and that the woman in finance will make me run my numbers again, even though I know they are right.

You won Sunday’s game, and I still turned it off, because it was painful to watch. I read the stories about missing Pesky’s funeral, the fight with management, and the big trade with the Dodgers. Are you done with the drama? You get the big foam finger from me, and it doesn’t say “We’re number one.”

I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. You and I both know the season is over for you. I will still watch and root for you if you make it worth my while.  I don’t care if you win. I care if you care. If you do, then I will. Capice?  I may throw like a girl, but I root like a beer-soaked dude, so bring it on, and I’ll make the hot dogs. Let’s have some fun out there, okay?

Let Teddy Win–Pay attention to what really matters

Meet Teddy, the perennial loser.

He used to be president.  Now he’s a giant-headed mascot at Nationals Park.  Midway through the 4th inning, he and three other former presidents (Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln) race through D.C. to the home-plate finish line. Teddy always loses, despite having by far the most crowd support among the racers.

He often leads the pack, only to get distracted before the finish line.  Like a magpie, it takes nothing more than a shiny bauble, a hot dog, or the Easter Bunny juggling plastic eggs to keep him from being a victor.  He has a blog,  a facebook page, a twitter feed, and even merchandise devoted to the cause–Let Teddy Win.  It hasn’t inspired him to victory.  441 consecutive losses.  Being a Teddy fan is almost as trying as being a Red Sox fan.

Since we don’t live in Boston anymore, my son and I have a tradition of rooting for the Sox at other ballparks.  When I found out the Sox were playing an exhibition game against the Nationals during Spring Break, I got excited.  What a great opportunity for a fun afternoon.  But then I thought twice.  My son’s attitude has been pretty snarky lately, and  I was worried it might not be the bonding experience I was used to.

My son and I were extremely close when he was young.  His father traveled a lot, and I was the one who drove him to practice, cheered at his games, and scrubbed the red dirt out of his white baseball pants (only fathers who don’t do laundry insist on white baseball uniforms).  I even braved asking for help at Decathalon Sports’ giant wall of jock straps.  But in the last two years, I’ve also become the person who nags him to clean his bathroom, drags him out of bed in the morning, and tells him to get off the x-box before his skin starts to glow.

As usual, he pretended we weren’t together on the train, preferring games on his phone to conversation.  On the walk to the stadium, he was full of swagger about how he was going to show his Sox pride.  He’s full of testosterone lately–or at least his vocal chords are–but he’s limited it to talking about talking.  When the time comes, he’s always respectful, but I lectured him anyway about how we’re a guest at the park, people take sports affiliations personally, and we can root for our team without being obnoxious, and so on, which to his ears comes off as blah blah blah, sports, blah blah blah you’re obnoxious.

He pestered me for food the minute we got in the park, and I could feel the knee-jerk “Not Now” response.  It’s pretty automatic.  Pestering and asking are two very different actions.  I wanted him to like me, though, just for today, so I said he could eat anything he wanted for the entirety of the game.  “No joke?” he asked.

No joke.  I bribed my kid to like me with junk food.  It’s hard being a mother to a teenager.  We take what we can get.

It was a great game, with ups and downs and home runs.  Dustin Pedroia being his bad self, and a bottom-of-the-ninth, throwdown-at-the-plate, final-out win.  The kind where one team’s fans jump up feeling the win at hand, only to join the rest of the crowd in silence waiting for the ump’s call, groaning in defeat while the other spectators burst into celebration.  The weather was perfect, we had great seats, and we even made friends with the Nationals fans around us, shaking hands over the great play from both teams. We made our way out of the park, happy.

While walking to the train, I thanked him for the great day and said, only half-joking, he did a good job of pretending to like me.  He shook off my comment and replied, “No.  I only pretend not to like you.  You know that, right?”

I said yes, but I was lying.  I was losing the race, distracted by the smart-ass comments, the constant refrain of “I know” and all of the tough talk.  I forgot where the finish line was, lost in life’s noise.  I’m Teddy.

“You’re one awesome, kid, do you know that?” I asked him.  I ruffled his hair and put an arm around his shoulder.  He instinctively looked around in panic, searching for anyone who might have witnessed the uncontrolled display of affection.  I teased him. “Really dude? It’s Nationals Park. It’s not like it’s on the Jumbotron.”

“I know” he snapped.  His stock response. Then he stopped, and leaned in like he’s sharing a secret.  “It’s sort of instinct.  You’re pretty awesome too.”  Meet son of Teddy.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I’d like to say we’ve been completely different with each other, moved by mutual affection.  We haven’t.  But I have the moment to draw on while he’s pretending not to like me, to remember that it’s an act.  Rejoice Teddy, your losing streak is over.  Red Sox, you’re next.  Work on it, okay?

Words by Jeannine Bergers Everett

Photograph by Karen Starkey