Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why I Briefly Hated Baseball, game two

Game two.

All afternoon when Tucker brought up the game I reminded him how important it is to always play hard and never give up. We talked about character.

And somewhere in the bottom of my black heart I hoped for rain, hurricanes, tornadoes, and any other natural disaster that would destroy the baseball fields and cause the tournament season to be permanently suspended so we never had to play another game. Alas, the sun shone and we showed up at the field right on time.

As the members of the other team began to trickle in, I was shocked to see they were not the amazon children of the previous night. No, they were somewhat normal in size and did not even bring entourages.  My hopes soared - we might be able to get a few outs and score a few points in this game.

I texted Trey (who was still at work), "We should be able to hang with this team!"  Win or lose, it wouldn't be the discouraging beat-down of the previous night. I loved baseball again.

The whole thing was a nail-biter. They scored four runs in the top of the inning; we scored three runs in the bottom. They went three and out on offense in the top; we never got a kid on base in the bottom. It was thrilling, this little league battle of skill and focus. We shouted to our kids - "good play!" and "you'll get it next time!"  It actually occurred to me that this was what baseball should be like -- friendly competition and excitement.

Until somewhere around the fifth inning. One of the other team's parents was running the scoreboard, and he neglected to give us one of the points we'd earned. I've run the scoreboard before, and I spent the entire game in fear of getting screamed at for errors, so the missing point disturbed me but not to the point of concern.

Until we run-ruled the inning with five points. Our boys should have been in the dug-out getting their gloves, and instead we were sending another kid to the plate. I think one of the coaches must have noticed and told the umpire because he ended the inning.  This drew whisperings and then shouts of confusion from the stands.  We only had four recorded points according to the scoreboard, and people were confused as to why the inning was over. Parents in the stands began telling the scorekeeper that the board should read thirteen instead of twelve, but he wouldn't listen. In fact, he was adamant that we only had twelve points and refused to change it. Finally the umpire had to come over and make him add the point. In one instant, the game went from intense, friendly competition to some parallel universe where people's lives depend on the outcome of little league games.

And I got a little riled up. It was whisper-y crazy, in my defense, but crazy nonetheless. I was fired up about that point. Why would you think the parent's on your opponent's team would lie to you about a point?  The inning was over according to the official, so the evidence clearly supported that those parents were right and you had made a mistake. Why be so rude about it?

As I whispered these thoughts to Trey, he just stared at me with that "you're turning into the crazy mom" look, and I made a mental note to work on my self-control.

In the bottom of the sixth, we were down by two points. We quickly scored twice to tie up the game, and I'm not kidding when I tell you that the tension on that field and in the stands was rivaled only by a world cup game complete with horns. It was edge-of-your-seat, intense baseball -- played by seven year olds.

The next batter approached the plate and hit a beautiful grounder that the opposing team fielded, but an overthrow allowed our runner on third to run into home. The stands erupted with cheers from one team and gasps from the other as this battle of the titans came to an end, but our opponent's bench erupted with something else.

The coaches were screaming and taunting the umpire about how we had done something illegal.  The umpire said a few words we couldn't hear from the stands, and then he simply exited the field.  As we began collecting our water bottles and Keaton's toys, we saw the coach from the other team storm off the field, on a mission. Word passed through the stands that he was going to get the league official.

If I was fired up before, then now I was going to explode.  I'm afraid my mouth began moving faster than my brain at that moment (in a normal voice this time, no more whispers), "My son is out there and these people are teaching him that when you lose you should get angry and yell and throw a fit, and this is unacceptable!  I am appalled! We won, life will go on, I promise. Let it go!" And I hated baseball and swore to never let Tucker play summer ball again for the rest of his life.

The league official did come to the field, and after some on-field conversation our runners went back to third and first and the opposing team grabbed their gloves and went back onto the field. I found out later that the concern was over the league rules regarding overthrows, and I still don't know if our run was legal or not. Apparently in the on-field conversation our coach said something to the effect of, "We won. But if you need us to play one more run we'll do it."

Our next batter jacked a fly ball to the outfield on the first pitch and our third base runner scored within a matter of seconds. Even with the preceding scene, the outcome of the game was not changed except for that last batter who now gets to tell stories of his spectacular hit.

And this team, this young, underdog team that had had the life pounded out of them the night before, got a win. A real-live big win, earned twice, and with a real-life example of good sportsmanship thrown in as a bonus.

And I loved baseball again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why I Briefly Hated Baseball, game one

or, as an alternate title, Heckling Etiquette for Baseball Fans.

This year, my son was eligible to try out for "All Stars" with our local Little League, only they didn't call it All Stars, just "Summer League," and rumor had it that all of the kids would make teams. Given Tucker's obsession with baseball and his natural athleticism (at least the seven year old version of athleticism), we were happy to let him try out.

The night of try outs arrived and we reached the ball field ready to watch our kid show his stuff. We soon realized that this wasn't just an itty-bitty "show what you can do" kind of evening. Around 60 kids were quickly being shuffled from one drill to the next - stop three grounders, catch three fly balls, figure out where the play is in a game situation, go, go, go.  At each station there were men, I assume coaches, taking down every awesome save and every grievous mistake on little clipboards. This was serious business.

Tucker was not the best kid out there, and he's kind of small for his age, so I left the tryouts happy that all the kids would make it because Tucker wasn't one of the top players, and I just flat out don't believe he's old enough to be told he isn't good enough for anything. He's seven, and he has lots of rejection to live through - it's part of life - but at seven he should think he is physically capable of absolutely anything.  I disliked the experience as a whole, and I suddenly hated baseball.

That Saturday we were supposed to get a call about what team he would be on, but no call came. Sunday, no call. Monday, no call.

Finally, I got an email from a dad we knew pretty well. His son and Tucker had played on the same soccer team when they were five, and we loved that team. All of the parents were nice and the kids were good - it was probably the best sports season Trey and I have had, and I feel like we've had quite a few. The dad, Brandon, said that Tucker would be on his team, and he gave some instructions about when they would practice, etc. The boys would practice Monday through Friday for the first two weeks of June. This sounded a little miserable to us, but Tucker was in absolute heaven.

When the roster of all the kids came, I realized that they were ALL seven. The age group was seven and eight year olds as of April 15th, so I knew there were nine year olds playing on the other teams. I knew immediately that our team was made up of the youngest players from tryouts - some of them barely seven.

But they were scrappy little seven year olds.  They worked so hard in practice, and we saw them improve so much. There were several really good coaches, and the practices were almost as serious as the tryouts, meant to make the boys better skill-wise. I was happy that Tucker had made this team, even if it looked like they might go two-and-out in the tournament. I loved baseball again.

The night of the first game finally arrived, and Tucker proudly wore his black jersey - the first uniform he's had with "Hickman" on the back. From the time he got up that morning, he was focused and pumped and excited. He was so excited, in fact, that we made it to the ball field around fifteen minutes before the designated arrival time because I couldn't listen to him beg to leave the house for the game anymore.

Just after I took my seat in the bleachers and opened the book I was reading as my pre-game warm-up, the other team - and their parents - swarmed the field. I was aghast! This couldn't be the team we were playing. The kids looked twelve. I double-checked to make sure we were at the right field, and I started hating baseball again.

The parents from the somewhat local team (a small town nearby) moved in on the field like troops going to battle, rolling up their coolers and unloading their lawn chairs right in front of the bleachers. In a matter of minutes, the entire fence behind home plate was lined with parents in their blue team shirts, creating a sea of intimidation for our young, hard working team.

Now, I must say that I've never understood the phenomenon of putting lawn chairs against the fence in front of the bleachers. Clearly, the bleachers are there so people can sit in them and watch the game, so the chairs in front of them eliminate the view from the entire first row.  This makes no sense to me.  And it wasn't the only thing that didn't make sense.

These parents were loud. Annoying loud. I can deal with shouts of encouragement, but I can only describe what they were doing as heckling their own children. It began in pregame warm-ups and continued throughout the game. If a kid missed the ball, his dad would shout "What are you doing? You should have had that!" On and on it went, and it made me a nervous wreck. I whispered to Trey that I had the most self-control of anyone in the whole world because I wanted, so badly wanted, to scold them.

Here's how it played out in my head:
Crazy Parent (jumps out his chair, screams at his own kid): Get your glove on the ground!  It went right by you!
Me: Sit down, ya loony! None of us want to see the sweat crease running down the crack of your shorts!
Crazy Parent (disgusted): Aw...why did you swing at that?
Me: Maybe if you wouldn't spend all your money on chaw and Lone Star, you could buy your poor kid some glasses.

And on and on it went in my head. They yelled, and I came up with hilarious, witty insults to throw back at them. And I chose to keep my mouth shut. My husband was very proud.

I think it goes without saying that the other team "drilled us" in Tucker's words. I don't remember the score, but they had somewhere around twenty, and the game was called for run-rule in the fourth inning. It was probably their parents never-ending heckling that made them so good.  Our formerly excited, baseball-loving kids were dejected and, I think, a little embarrassed.

And because the tournament was double-elimination, we had to play again the next night.

And I hated baseball.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I'm raising slobs.

That's right. My kids would never consider actually picking up after themselves unless I threaten to remove all pleasure from their daily lives. I'm raising slobs, and it's all my fault.

See, I like things to be picked up. Don't check the backside of my ceiling fans or anything because cleaning is not exactly my strong point, but I can't stand it when there is crap everywhere (or the plural "craps" as my friend C would say). How do I make my life better?  I pick up the craps and put them away.

Every mom in the great green world knows that no matter what it is (cleaning included), it's easier just to do it yourself than to beg, plead, threaten, and beg again for the kids to do it. In addition, if I pick up the craps they will be put where they belong rather than under the bed, in the closet, in the dog's kennel or any other place where they can't be seen anymore.

Sidenote: Contrary to popular belief, just because something is out of sight does not mean it is "put away."

Alas, my kids are slobs because the husband and I pick up after them all of the time.  But the times they are a'changin.

It's summer, and my goal this summer is to teach my kids to voluntarily pick up their own craps. I know what you're thinking, sounds crazy, right?  Only in a perfect family utopia would kids actually get toys out, play with them, and then put them away, right?  Well, friends, we're on our way to that utopia right here in the Hickman house.

We haven't actually left the station yet, but I've started to believe it can be done, and that's probably half the battle, right?

I've decided I have to attack each child's sloppiness in a unique way. First, let's talk about Tucker because he's the easiest to intimidate. He knows rules and he follows them, much like his dad, so he's my first target. 

Tucker's life activities involve only baseball. He's either at baseball practice, tossing a ball in the air, watching baseball games, or analyzing the MLB draft (sometimes all at once).  You would think that playing baseball wouldn't be messy, needing only a glove and ball, but you'd be wrong. I don't think Tucker can so much as touch a ball without getting out his glove, his dad's glove, two bats, home plate, catcher's gear, a jersey for the team he wants to pretend to be on that day, and ten or twelve million wiffle balls.

My plan for Tucker is a Gale Greeson special.  I'm going to tell him once to pick up his stuff, and then I'm going to start loading it in a trash bag.  This genius plan operates under the assumption that if he leaves it out, it must be trash because of course he would put away things that are important to him, right?  If I'm firm and stick with the plan, I think I can have him on the utopia train in about a week.

Then if I can just convince him to pick up the "crust" of his pop tarts when he's done with them, we'll be in great shape. You may be thinking "aren't pop tarts all crust?"  Yes, they are, however, Tucker only eats the part that has filling in the middle and leaves the outside edges all over the place for someone else to come pick up. I wish I was kidding.

Keaton, on the other hand, is going to be a little more difficult. If I were to load up his stuff in a trash bag, he would cross his arms, set a scowl on his face, and announce "I don't care.  I don't like that stuff anyway." I know this from experience.

I have to find a way to bribe him. Money? Candy? Grapefruit? (he loves grapefruit)  If you have any ideas, please post a comment and enlighten me.

I can see the picked-up home utopia on the horizon, and I am determined to make it there before the fall. I am determined!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Posterboard

Well, crap.

I was faced with my worst nightmare: a blank white posterboard that I was supposed to "decorate to reflect Keaton's time at Longmire." The major problem was that it was blank and I had to decorate it. I hate to decorate things. It's why I can't be an elementary school teacher -- I am automatically disqualified by my inability to make clever and cute bulletin boards.

For the first few days, I let the posterboard sit on the dining room table, staring up at me with its incredible blankness, mocking my lack of craftiness. Keaton wanted to start coloring it with random crayons right away, but I convinced him we needed a plan. Tucker, the King of Plans, immediately got some paper and began to sketch possible configurations of the poster's design.
I knew that if I decorated that poster, it would look like I had turned a herd of two year olds loose on the thing. It actually occurred to me, somewhere in the evil parts of my soul, to let the dog pee on it, then splatter on some grape jelly, and glue on a couple of pictures of my little man and call it "art." I envisioned myself explaining to everyone at graduation how it was "an exact replica of a very expensive piece I saw when I took the boys to Paris last summer because they were just begging to visit all the great galleries." I figured my "art" would probably smell, so I quickly ditched the plan.

Finally, it hit me. I don't have to be crafty. I just have to know crafty people. I quickly dialed my friend Tiffany to beg a favor. We agreed that Friday after school we'd make a trip to the local craft store together (I couldn't be trusted to go alone), and then she would come over with her amazing box of crafting gear and make the poster.

At the craft store, Keaton picked out some construction stickers and then we began looking for paper. The stickers had yellow on them, so I suggested some orange paper I found. Gently, Tiffany admonished me, "The orange won't provide any contrast, though. We need some blue, maybe."

Yep. I can't even pick out paper.

After the craft store, we went to the local mean, to pick up a nice bottle of red wine and some cheesy appetizers. I had to contribute something to this effort, after all.

And for the next two hours Tiffany cut, trimmed, stickered, corner thingy-ed, and otherwise created the world's most awesome pre-school graduation poster. I sat calmly nearby, enjoying my wine and providing what I'm certain was the world's most intriguing conversation.

On Monday, when I proudly took the poster to school, everyone was amazed at my artistic abilities. People all over the building ooohh'ed and aahhh'ed and I'm sure were terribly jealous of Keaton's poster.

I, of course, responded with, "This ol' thing? It was nothing. It took me no time at all!"