Ramblings and Tears

I’ve been a bit obsessed with a new pitcher in the Ranger’s Organization.  I first heard about him from my friend and favorite blogger Tepid Participation.  From the moment I heard his story, I was hooked.  You can read about him here.

He has been a pretty dominant reliever in AA with Frisco, but I did not expect him to get the call quite so soon.  The moment I read the news on Twitter, my stomach was in knots.  If you have been close to someone who suffered with alcoholism, you know that building a new and safe routine is vital.  Had this guy – recently released from prison, in a new organization, getting a second chance not only to live a new life, but to play baseball on the professional level – had enough time and experience to not let the pressure and elation of living his dream send him back down that path?  I was very concerned.  Baseball fans can be ruthless.  They are not kind or compassionate if you are part of a team loss.  God forbid you contribute to said loss.  Could he take the outrageous ups and downs of this love/hate relationship?

I watched.  I held my breath.  I cheered.  And then, I cried.  Not a sweet tear streaming down my cheek with pride, but an ugly, sobbing mess.  What was I so moved by?  His post-game interview was sincere and his steady gaze and demeanor showed that he is grateful and aware of the gift he has been given.  But why am I so broken up about it?  The answer finally dawned on me as I cleaned the kitchen continuing to cry into the dirty spaghetti pot – Uncle Larry.

My favorite uncle was a ridiculously talented high school athlete.  He received multiple athletic scholarships to Division 1 schools for both football and baseball.  His 6’4″ frame, wavy strawberry-blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes were hard to miss in his hometown of Santa Fe New Mexico.  Everywhere he went, he was a star.  Free meals, free gas, lots of friends, and a very popular and charismatic preacher for a father.  Larry  was living large.  When it came time to choose colleges, his father insisted that he go to a Southwest Conference school.  Larry was more interested in attending the University of Colorado to which he also received an athletic scholarship, but pleasing his father was already almost impossible, so off to Texas Tech he went.

He did not make it through even one semester.  Playing football as a freshman at Tech was a far cry from the superstar life he left in Santa Fe.  He felt more like a piece of meat than a star quarterback and scholarship athlete.  His family did not know it yet, but this is where his already raging relationship with alcohol began morphing into a way to cope with his disappointment.  He dropped out of school, moved back home to New Mexico, met a girl, got married and began working in construction.  He and his bride moved to Colorado into a small home overlooking Pikes Peak.  It was paradise to me when we visited.  Land on the side of a mountain, three dogs, a pond and wildlife everywhere.  We had no idea what was going on behind closed doors.  That marriage ended, the home was lost, He tried AA meetings and met another wonderful woman.  She thought she could change him with her love and guidance.  They had a baby and lived near Santa Fe.  We were so happy for his new chance at happiness, but once again, we had no idea what was really going on.

It was here when life and his story took a turn for the worst.  He is on his way to pick up his wife and infant child from the airport.  He looses control of his car.  The car flips end-over-end again and again until it finally comes to rest.  He is dead, but revived at the scene.  He spends months in a coma, more months in the hospital.  He does not remember anything. His blood alcohol level at the time of the accident is alarming, but the focus is his recovery.  He has what was then referred to as a “closed-head injury.”  This traumatic brain injury changes the way he thinks.  He wants to cook a chicken but does not take it out of the packaging before placing it in the oven. He just puts the package of chicken in the pan and sees nothing wrong.  He is resistant to accept help.  He is no longer the man we knew and loved.  Another marriage ends. He is still drinking.  He strikes out at his family and then, he is gone.  We do not know where.  For a while, we do not search for him.

When relatives die, my mother must find him to notify him.  He writes a letter to his daughter.  He has brief conversations with my mom and then disappears into the darkness again.  A reporter writes an article about him when he is living homeless back in Santa Fe.  My mother tracks him through social security checks all over the US.  The details of this sketchy existence are not as important as the loss.  He is gone.  My favorite uncle.  Alive somewhere in the world, but practically dead to me.  My children do not know him.  They have never seen him, never heard his booming voice or seen the knuckles on his enormous hands.  He is not here to teach them to whistle like he taught me or to pick them up and hold them in his strong arms.  I am so sad.  I am so grief stricken when I see what he could have done if he was only able to get away from the alcohol.  If only…

Good luck to you Matt Bush.  I hope and pray that you will be able to live your dream and stay away from your demon!

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What Planet Am I On?

My world has been rocked to its core by one little story from the 6th grade hall at my sons’ middle school.  Michael’s locker is next to a boy who we will call “Jack.”  Jack is good friends with another boy who we will call, “Matt”.  Yesterday at school, Michael watched Jack pull $300 out of his backpack and hand this money to his friend Matt so he could buy an Apple watch.  Michael was close enough to see the bills, “a $100 bill and four $50s” he tells me.  Keep in mind, these are 6th graders.  They are 11 and 12 years old.  Bells and sirens are going off in my head.  Oh My God, I think.  Michael’s locker is next to a drug dealer!  Who else would have that kind of money?  I warn Michael that this is not normal, that kind of money should not be changing hands at school.

BUT – As we talk more about the kids, the situation and we include his brother, I find out that this is not so unusual at their school.  Most of their friends have the latest iPhone (the $700 one I got for Christmas from my husband and told him he spent WAY too much on), many of the boys they hang out with have Apple watches, the most expensive name brand shoes, several fit bits, iPads, iPad minis and more.  We’re not talking a few.  Most of the kids they hangout with have ALL of these things.  They go on to tell me about kids bringing cash to school to buy expensive shoes from a friend who has 4 pair.  They recall the time when a couple of kids bought “Dippin’ Dots” for their entire lunch table.  Of course the Dippin’ Dots (an ice cream like treat mainly sold at sporting events) actually cost more than the school lunch.  The stories continue, and continue…I am shocked.

I spent $350 on each child for Christmas this year and felt completely out of control.  As a matter of fact, I considered taking about half of the presents back because I felt I was setting a bad precedent and not keeping our focus on the reasons we celebrate the season.  And now, some 12 year old is GIVING his buddy $300 for a fancy watch.  I ask Michael if there is anyone he knows that he would give that amount of money to for anything.  He thinks for a minute.  He wonders if it is a trick question.  If he answers no is he selfish?  If he says his family, would he be sincere?  After a few moments of reflection, he gives me an honest answer.  “No Mom, if I had $300 I’d be keeping it for myself not giving it to a buddy.”  I change the amount to $20…nope, still no reason he can think of to give his hard earned cash to a friend for something like shoes, or a shirt or a watch.  I can only imagine that this kid just gave his friend all his birthday and Christmas cash.  But honestly, I don’t know as I consider all the stories I’ve just been told.

Many of the characters in the story live in our neighborhood, not the new McMansions of “Richwoods” located right next to the school. They look just like my boys, wear the same clothes, play in the same sports associations, laugh at the same disgusting jokes.  I don’t notice a crazy number of expensive cars in the parking lot or the drop off line.  But no mater how much they tell me that this is commonplace, I still feel something is very wrong with this picture.  Since when $300 is easy for a 12 year-old to let go of, how much would be too much?

The school has taught them how to balance a checkbook, but has their family taught them the value of their earned dollar?  Is this boy buying friendship or is this really not a big deal?  If this is the norm, we are always going to spend more than we make.  These kids will value the brand name shoe over the cash in their savings account.  They will value the newest watch (which is only new until the next version comes out in 6 months)  over a good, solid timepiece.  They talk about everything they have and do like it is a competition.  I went to school this week to check on Michael and a boy came over to tell me he had been invited to join a AAA baseball team.  Of course, I responded “Great!” knowing that he had no idea what that even meant, but he said it because he thought it meant something to me.  The race to have more, be better, be more is never ending.  I want out!

Our family lives by rules that do not seem valued today.  We DO still end up spending what we make, but even with that, we live a pretty modest life.  Many who know me would laugh at the word modest with reference to my lifestyle.  I have a nice home, a new car, if we NEED something, I have no worries about purchasing it.  But we do not owe anyone anything.  No car financing, no mortgage, no credit card debt, no school loans, the kid’s college funds are fully funded (supposedly) we have some retirement set aside….BUT, my kids do not have iPhones, apple watches or even their own computers really.  I’m good with that!

BUT…how long with they be happy when surrounded by such excess packaged as normal?  How long can I hold off the desire to have what their friends have?  Here in the land of excess – probably not long.

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Hamels Trade from a Fan’s Perspective

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Christopher and Michael with catcher Jorge Alfaro last season in Frisco. Alfaro is one of the prospects being traded for Hamels.

Over the past month, the major league baseball world has seemingly gone bonkers.  General Managers all across the country are figuring out what they need to win and who they can afford to trade to get there.  This week, during baseball games, every time a player was pulled from a game, twitter was going nuts speculating about whether they were part of a big trade.  Some were high-fiving in the dugout while others were crying on the playing field.  Crazy, crazy business if you ask me.

The Texas Rangers, my hometown team, have just finalized a deal with the Phillies to trade a fan favorite, Matt Harrison, and 5 of their top prospects (all in the top 30 of MLB) for a couple of major league lefties – Cole Hamels, and Jake Deikman.  The centerpiece of the deal, Hamels,  is a 31-year-old professional.  His numbers are solid, he is an all-star, a proven champion.  He has been in the ML game for 10 years and his worst ERA during that time is 4.32 which isn’t great, but also is not that bad for a guy who pitches an average of 200 innings a season.  Seemingly a proven commodity.

But, when your factor in that the average MLB career lasts just under 6 years, isn’t this player already past his prime?  We traded 5 top 30 prospects – AA catcher, AA outfielder and big hitter, AA starting pitcher, and 2 AAA starting pitchers – most who have yet to get their “cup-of coffee” for an old guy, a slightly younger guy and some cash?  AND two lefties?  All I’m reading lately is that we are lacking power righties not lefties?  Goodness gracious baseball Gods, what is JD thinking?

Now, I know a guy who seems to know a ton about baseball.  He is often on local radio answering questions about baseball prospects and even does color commentary for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Ranger’s AA team.  This guy thinks this is a good deal for both the Rangers and more importantly for the prospects.  Maybe they will move up faster?  Maybe they will be given opportunities that are not available here.  It seems the Phillies are re-building right now and opportunities abound. This is all fine, but shouldn’t the Rangers be doing that too?  They have been plagued with injuries and TJ surgeries.  Do we really need wins now from someone nearing the end of their career rather than world domination just a few years later?  I mean the club isn’t going to go out of business if we don’t win this year.

I’ll freely admit, I am fiscally conservative.  We’ve paid off our home and cars, invested in college funds for all three children, and most of our investments are now in mutual funds rather than stocks.  But this deal reeks of putting all of your money on a horse with 3 to 1 odds rather than the 20 to 1 that will pay off BIG time.  Why trade your thoroughbred stallions for a work horse?  In my opinion, the Rangers GMs have traded the future of the club for a short-term goal of making it to the playoffs rather than hunkering down for the long-haul.  There is a ton of talent in the Ranger’s farm system, but when you trade 5 of your top-level prospects, you’ve sold the whole restaurant for a good enchilada.

Well Rangers, do what you’re gonna do – I go to the Frisco games anyway!

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Don’t Drink the Koolaid!

IMG_20150719_134832_789I seem to be surrounded by parents who have all been drinking from the same batch of Koolaid.  Our kids are 11 turning 12 and going into 6th grade.  What do you remember from 6th grade?  I remember being the big kid on campus.  I remember falling off of my Candies shoes and passing out with my skirt over my head under a desk.  I remember liking certain boys who did not return my affection.  AND I remember getting excited about Jr. High in Richardson.

No so with our 11 and 12-year-olds.  They are entering their first year of Middle School.  They are completing summer reading assignments.  They are worried about whether they will be able to keep up with the Pre-AP course work.  If they will be able to learn to play their instrument even if they can not practice over the summer.  AND they are worried about whether or not they will make the High School team.

Wait….Did you say the High School team?  But they are just entering Middle School.

YES – the team that they will have the opportunity to try out for in THREE years.  Their parents have begun this frenzy of thinking because they have been sold the idea that if their child does not have an adequate “resume” of high-level teams they have played for (and their parents have PAID for) they will not be able to make the team.  Coaches will ask them what teams they played for, how many tournaments they played in, how many championships they have won, the list goes on.

It gets worse!  These same parents are asking baseball writers and scouts to come out to watch their 10, 11 and 12-year-old kids play ball and then write-up a prospect report.  There are sports writers actually writing and tweeting about their own kid’s youth team in their MLB blog.  They are also paying big bucks to have their kids compete in “World Series” and “Super Bowl” events popping up all over town.

Even if Koolaid is the only drink available, I refuse to drink.  These kids won’t even walk the same after they complete puberty.  Their bodies are going through so many changes that their entire game will change.  They won’t run, field, throw, shoot, or block the same way in three years.  I refuse to climb on board the paid-coach bandwagon.  Private lessons – sure.  I do realize that no matter how many YouTube videos I watch, I can not truly understand the fine points of some sports positions.  So, when my boys wanted to pitch, we DID hire someone (with recent college level pitching experience) to teach them how.   I’d do this for anything they wanted to learn – piano, art, snow skiing – why not sports? They have had a number of great lesson coaches, many with professional experience.  Any more than that is just for the matching bags, helmets and cleats.  And at 11 or 12, who really needs that?

So PLEASE parents.  Go grab some coffee, water, lemonade, soda – anything other than the Koolaid – and take a big breath.  Your kid’s chances of making the High School team are solely in his or her hands.  They have to have the drive and commitment to make it happen.  And no matching gear or AAA status is going to change that.  Surround them with positive, informative, teaching coaches who will strengthen their LOVE sports and then take a BIG step back.  Let them do their thing and let the path unfold before THEM.  You might be surprised at what you learn about your own athlete!

(FYI – the trophies pictured above are just some of the ones that one of my 11 year old twins has earned playing sports on teams coached by non-paid Dad coaches.  I think he’s doing just fine.)

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Two Sides of the Sport Parent Coin

We’ve all read about the overzealous sports parent who yells at his/her kid, coaches from the sidelines, maybe even has words with the ump, opposing coach or parents.  (Well, hopefully people still read more than 140 characters of a tweet.) Although I believe many sports parents profess to disagree with the behaviour, I still see it at almost every sports game my children play.  As if yelling at them during a game will do anything at all but interrupt their focus.  As parents, we just can’t seem to help ourselves.  I count myself in this category, although I will say I am a recovering negative sports parent.

However, there is another side to the sports parenting coin that is becoming equally disturbing – the Excessive Celebration Parent.  I’m not saying we should not cheer to support our children and their teammates – quite the contrary.  I believe we have the power to help our children overcome their doubts and help them build confidence by yelling things like, “You’ve got this!”, “Great job!”, “What a catch!”, “Great hit!”, “That’s a great pitch!” and the like!

Remember however, each of these small victories are also a small loss for the opposing team and children.  When your pitcher strikes out the other team’s clean-up hitter, you feel extra excited.  You cheer a little louder, maybe even  jump up and clap.  Great for you, but what does the hitter feel like?  At some point, he or she will understand that your extra celebration can be taken as a sign of respect, but when these kids are between the ages of 9 and 13, everything is a struggle.  Their emotional state is in flux as their bodies and identities change.  Your example, whether it is positive or negative, has some extra weight now because of this time in their lives.  The consequences of YOUR actions are bigger and that means it is even more important to set a good example.

My boys love the game of baseball.  Unfortunately, at age 11, the baseball community in North Texas is getting very small.  It is rare that we play against a team with no former coach or teammate on it.  If you play in a league rather than tournaments, the chances of playing against former teams and coaches is amplified even more.  One particular team, our home for more than 2 years, is especially difficult to play against.  The boys are all good ball-players.  The parent coaches are all passionate about the game and their team.  The parents are all invested in the success of their children and the team.  Typically the games are close and hard-fought.  I have continued friendships with several of the parents and coaches through Facebook and see the kids still treat each other as friends rather than rivals.  A laugh between the baserunner and the defensive player trying to get them out.  A slap in the helmet or a fist bump for a good hit.  I see these interactions between the children at every game and it warms my heart.

The parents and coaches however are a different story all together.  One family, who we never played with, but have been on the same teams at different times, won’t make eye-contact with us or talk to us any more.  I have no idea why.  At a game last season, I noticed that one of the father/coaches, a person I consider a friend and who in his professional life is a great roll-model, ran out on the field and belly bumped his child after every scoreless defensive inning or after any great hit.  It made me feel a bit strange – offended even.  When talking to his wife later, the actions were attributed to trying to encourage the child who had been in a hitting slump.  I still thought it was a bit much, but I let it go.

Then, this season, in our second game against this team the tie was 0-0 after five and a half innings.  Their team was the home team so they got one final at bat.  Time had expired and they had one runner on second with one out.  They hit the ball right to first base for an easy out, but the runner on second ran to third on the hit and rounded the base headed for home.  The runner stopped on the base path and looked at our first basemen who had the ball.  It was enough to get the first baseman to throw the ball – to third base.  The error gave the runner the opportunity to steal home and the game was over.

As the runner crossed home plate, this father/coach charged onto the field yelling, jumping and whooping with such vigor his shirt was flying up to his armpits.  Another father/coach was running around his team high-fiving them and yelling like they had just won a million dollars.  Their entire dugout emptied onto the field around first base jumping, yelling, hugging – players, parents, coaches alike.  Yes, the game was exciting.  Yes, it was hard-fought.  However, this was game five in a twelve game season.  The run was the result of an error not a fantastic hit.  And finally and perhaps worse of all, this massive celebration took place not three feet from the player committing the game-ending error and before the teams had shook hands and complimented each other on a well-played game.

The next morning when I asked my sons about it, one said, “I was too busy being mad about losing to notice what the coaches were doing.”  The other, one who had been in right field just behind the error said, “I felt really bad when Coach X started jumping up and down celebrating.  He did it right in front of X.  I mean it wasn’t like they made some crazy good hit or incredible play.  We messed up and they scored.  I felt really bad for my teammate and they were all around him.”

Of course, it’s all just written off a sour-grapes when you’re on the losing end of a game.  Whatever complaint you have, be it bad officiating, coaches influencing calls, bad coaching, poorly behaved parents, it’s all just because your kid’s team lost.  But that just illustrates my point even further.  This is your kid’s game, not yours.  Even if you are a coach and you have been working for months with your kid on one specific skill.  It is the kid who accomplishes the goal, not you!  Once the game begins, it is the kids who own it, not the parents, not even the coaches.  I may give a bit of credit to the third base coach who told the runner to go home, but come on!  Act like you’ve been here before.  Conduct yourself with dignity.  Behave like an adult and show respect to all of the players who went 6 scoreless innings and finally made one game changing error.  Remember that you are setting an example to your children – and heck even the parents and coaches around you.  How would your kid feel if this took place around him and it was his error that lost the game?

My children all play sports. (Like you don’t already know that – haha)  I want them to experience success and failure on this smaller scale because in a game, there is ample opportunity for growth through a struggle that lasts for just 90 minutes rather than a lifetime!  I guess in the end, they do need both good and bad examples to learn from so maybe I owe you a thank you for showing them how NOT to act when they have sporty kids of their own.  But, really, I’d just like to see grown ups behaving like grown ups.

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Life, Death & Baseball

Well, this time of year is considered the “off-season” in baseball, but honestly it is when the front offices go NUTS trying to compile the best possible team for the season. The way they do this is not by pulling the guys in for extended training (although they did have a few here in Dallas last week). Nope, it’s TRADE SEASON! Yes that right baseball fans! Just when you fall in love with your favorite player, buy his jersey (cuz it went on sale in October), and buy a pack of cards…he’s no longer on your hometown team.

How do you build a fan base that way? Oh yea! The only way to build a fan base – according to current baseball business philosophy is to WIN! To that argument, I give you the Boston Red Sox….BOOM!  In reality, I believe this is the culture that created the “casual fan” so many in the industry seem to hate.  The trickle down to 9U sports is also pretty funny, but don’t think for a moment it isn’t happening!  Oh well, if you build it they will come right?  Except what exactly are you building?  a “team” full of players traded like the cards their pictures are on and given just a time or two to prove their worth before they are sent to the glue factory.  UUUGGGHHH!

I say it again, the business of baseball is in stark contrast to the game. The business is ugly, seedy, unscrupulous (sp) and just plain bad. But the game! Oh the game is a thing of beauty.  As hard as it is effortless.  So fun to watch the consummate professional play alongside the passionate rookie all on a beautiful field of green with the star-studded sky or blazing sun above.  I should say, the game can be beautiful…as long as you don’t give the pitcher only a few seconds to throw a pitch and you don’t outlaw the shift because the fans who don’t actually appreciate the game, but like taking off work for a cold beer and hotdog think it makes it too long and boring!  But I guess that is an argument for another post!

Just 24 days until Pitchers and Catchers report to spring training! PLAY BALL!

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Live, Write, Repeat

IMAG0616I sat down on December 31st with my kids and we set out to see what we were doing on that date in 2013.  Much to my dismay, it was very much the same thing I was doing right that very moment.  We looked forward through the next few months and really, besides the teams playing in the bowl games and the foods I was planning to make, many of the posts were just a repeat of the year just passed and the one before that.

At first, this bothered me.  I thought how sad it was that these milestones, these Facebook posts I had thought worthy of sharing with my 400+ “friends,” were really just remakes of a previous version.  Then it occurred to me.  I’m pretty happy in general.  I don’t really want for anything.  I can afford to spoil my kids with sports and movies and video games and more.  I love my home.  I love my family.  And over the past few years, I have made a few new friends who have had a huge impact on my life.  These things are all wonderful examples of a life well lived.

Maybe looking back and seeing a repeat is just a sign that you’re living a good life.  Maybe a good remake of a classic is truly the best form of flattery!  So CHEERS to all of you who can look back and see a whole lot of the same over the last year – or two!  Pat yourselves on the back.  You’re doing a great job!  Let’s hope 2015 brings more of the same!!!

 

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