Month: April 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

Drama On The Diamond

Too many words about one kickball game.

Man, what a kickball game last night!

It was a highly emotional game as we traveled to the school where S. and her entire family attended grade and middle school, OL.1 St. P’s was 0-3 and badly wanted to put a whole game together. They had tended to do well early then blow leads late.

Things started well. They were up 11-6 after two innings, and 16-13 after four. But things kind of fell apart in the fifth and they entered their last kicks down 22-18. They scraped across five runs to take the lead but they had given up at least three runs in every inning so far, so odds were against them.

The first three girls in the bottom of the sixth reached safely, one scoring to tie the game. St. P’s got a force out but there were still two runners in scoring position and OL’s best kicker coming to the plate. Each time this girl had kicked, she knocked the ball over the infield and deep into the outfield, getting two home runs and two doubles in the process. Surely the game was over.

She absolutely crushed the first pitch. However, unlike her first four attempts, she didn’t get under it, but rather sent a rocket directly at St. P’s shortstop, who caught it and raced to third to double-off the runner. Inning over, tie game, extra frames! The St. P’s girls couldn’t believe they hadn’t lost. The OL girls couldn’t believe they hadn’t won.

In the seventh St. P’s used small ball to get one run in, but wasted two outs in the process. M. came up with two outs and a runner on first. Like a lot of the girls her age who are skinny, she doesn’t get much power on the ball when she kicks it. This time the scuffed at the ball, knocking a little looper that went about 10 feet and then bounced back toward home. She ran to first, one of the infielders2 collected the ball, and the umpire ruled it had spun foul. Our coach protested that the infielder had touched the ball before it went foul. In a rather cool and very sportsmanlike move, the OL coach said, “Yeah, she should be on first.” The umpire, who had been under fire all night from both coaches, shrugged and pointed to first. M. shuffled back to the base.

Two on, two out, back to the top of the lineup.

BOOM!

First pitch is blasted deep into the outfield. Runner on second races home. M. races home. Kicker races home. Three run home run!

St. P’s added three more runs before the inning was over and were up 30-23, needing three outs for their first win.

They gave up one run but got out of the inning for the victory.

As you would expect, the girls were elated.

M. had a solid night. She got on base twice in four attempts. It was her fielding efforts that limited OL’s best kicker to doubles rather than two more home runs. She does a really good job getting in front of the ball, stopping it, and then getting it back to the infield. Trust me, that’s harder than it sounds. Just about every inning features one or two balls that either roll through the legs of the outfielders or bounce over their heads because they ran up on them too much.

I admit, it is really hard to watch these games calmly. Although it is CYO sanctioned event, and there is an underlying mood of “Let’s get along and have fun,” each game has several encounters between coaches and the umpire either asking for clarification on calls or flat out arguing them. When a few calls go against a team, there are often a few comments from the parents.

But it’s hard to watch M., mostly because, like baseball, there are lots of little details about how to play kickball that she doesn’t understand. I feel like I can help her with these elements of the game, but I don’t want to overwhelm her with.

Example: once she was on second, with a runner behind her on first, with two outs, and a kick went to the outfield. She stood on second and watched instead of taking off for third immediately. The runner from first nearly caught her and they had to settle for staying on third and second, rather than possibly both scoring. She’s trying to be careful and make sure the ball isn’t caught, but doesn’t yet get the idea of “Two outs, run on anything,” or that there is someone behind her hauling ass and she needs to haul ass, too, to avoid getting stacked up at a base.

Because of her lack of leg muscle, we’ve advised her to always kick it towards third on the ground, as few third basemen can field it and make an accurate throw to first to get her. She smartly countered with, “What if there’s a runner on third? Can’t they just tag her, then?” Sometimes it’s hard to remember that all the baseball nuances I’ve picked up have come over 35 years or so of watching the game. When I was first playing t-ball at age seven, or even when I was nine and playing baseball, I’m sure I didn’t have all the situational strategies mastered.

Oh, and it’s hard to watch because the games are kind of sloppy, last forever (Nearly 90 minutes last night), you’re never sure of the score, and you want your daughter’s team to win.

But she, and the team, are getting better, and I think she’s having fun. After the game I told her that her kick in the seventh was the most important of the game because that kept the inning alive and they scored seven instead of just one run. And then we told her she did a great job fielding and limiting the other team. She kind of blew us off, as kids will do. But when her coach came over and told her she did the best of all the outfielders, she absolutely beamed. Those little moments are the ones that we sign the kids up for sports for.

They go for their second-straight win Thursday night.

Actually it wasn’t emotional at all. I’m trying to build drama here, though. ↩
Two infielders stand on either side of the pitcher. These girls have to be tough because they often get blasted by the girls who can put some muscle into the ball. ↩

Joys Of Parenting -or- Serenity Now

Way, way back I wrote, rather brilliantly I think, that being the parent of a two-year-old is a constant reminder that you are an utter failure. Those little beasts are just constantly challenging you, and often by the end of the day, you’re at your wits’ ends and barely clinging to your sanity.

The bad thing is those trying moments never really go away, they just come from different angles and although not the constant barrage of toddler-dom, are sometimes even more stressful as your kids get older.

This past weekend should have been fantastic. The weather was gorgeous both days. We had our family Easter celebration scheduled for Sunday. The swim team the girls will be joining in five weeks had an informational meeting later Sunday to get the season kicked off. We got lots of things done around the house.

Despite all of that, I spent most of Sunday in a pretty profound funk because I was thoroughly fed up with my daughters. There was a massive meltdown Saturday morning when one daughter returned from a sleep-over.1 Later two sisters, who have been struggling in each other’s company lately, got into it multiple times. There was whining, fighting, disobedience, clingy-ness all damn day. Things wrapped up when one sister knocked the other out of line to swing, and on her ass, at a friend’s house. It’s always a fun moment when I, while gritting my teeth, shout, “THAT’S IT! TIME TO GO!” and march them away in front of other parents and kids.

Sunday had all kinds of other nonsense. Unfortunately for my girls, I began the day with a bad mood hangover from Saturday and they never got any slack from me. More arguing, whining, tears, complaints, inattentiveness to parental requests. By the end of the day I was walking around stewing about everything. Each time I found bits of granola bar sprinkled over the rug, or piles of cereal under the table, or the leftover bits of Easter candy (from last week) in the sunroom that had attracted an army of ants, my mood darkened more. By bedtime I was barely talking to any of them.

I keep telling myself that our girls are, mostly, good kids. They don’t get into trouble at school. We don’t get reports that the behavior we see at home is repeated in school or at homes of friends. I suppose that’s a trade I’m willing to make: my sanity in exchange for children who behave with manners and respect in public.

A good friend told me, shortly before I got married, that marriage was the hardest thing she had ever done. I didn’t know at the time that she was separated and would be divorced from her husband a year later. She was speaking from (bad) experience.

I agree that marriage is hard work. But I think parenting is much harder. I feel like any problems you have with your spouse can be discussed in rational terms. Every parent knows that logic often doesn’t hold when attempting to get your children to behave. Your spouse may drive you crazy, but it seems like we can eventually understand the behavior of adults. Kids…they will drive you mad as you attempt to figure out why the hell they’re disobeying rules that have been in place for years, or continue to exhibit patterns of behavior that you’ve made clear over and over again are not acceptable.

Things were better this morning. I’ve vowed to put this weekend behind us, and will work to be more patient and understanding. That might be the most important thing we can do as parents. Find a way to somehow get beyond all the nonsense.

But I always know more idiotic behavior is right around the corner.

And mine aren’t even teenagers yet…

Serenity Now!

I’m not naming which kid did what so that the blame gets spread evenly. They were all knuckleheads, though, so no one gets off lightly. ↩

Q1 Albums

We’re nearly a third of the way through the year. There’s already been some great music. Since my year-end focus is always on singles, I thought I would use this opportunity to share some of my favorite albums of the first four months of the year. I’ll try to repeat this again in the fall.

Lost In The Dream – The War On Drugs
Ahh the breakup album. I do love them, when done well. And this ranks right up with the best, although it takes a different tack than others I’ve loved.

As with all WoD music, there is the sense of travel and escape. After six weeks of listening to it, and digesting the combination of despair in the lyrics and almost celebratory tone to the music of the best songs, I think I finally have a handle on what the escape is from. It’s about coming to the realization that it is time to move on from everything that comes after the end of a relationship. Let the person go, and all the pain and memories associated with them. Open your eyes, look around, and open the next chapter. As another great breakup album stated, “Take your life, give it a shake…”

A quick note about the band. I’m kind of fascinated in how and why I enjoy this band so much. I loved their 2012 album Slave Ambient. I find this to be an even better piece of work. Which is odd, since they can draw a straight line back to classic Springsteen (which I do like), Petty (which I can take in small doses), and Dylan (which I’ve never liked). There is a strong jam band influence (something I hate), but thanks to the structure of their songs, they don’t come across as a jam band. And there are heavy notes of late 70s/early 80s AOR music, which flies directly in the face of the indie/alt rock I’ve been listening to for the last 20-plus years. It doesn’t make sense for me to like this band. Yet I do, tremendously.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
The meaning of rock and roll has been debated since its earliest days. In general, though, I believe that at its core, rock is the music of rebellion. Often rock music has been used as the soundtrack to dramatic political or social upheavals. But often when we speak of rebellion, we are talking about the simple act of a younger generation carving out a position in society that undercuts the social mores of the previous generations.

By that definition, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is about as rock and roll as you can get.

It tells the story of lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s ongoing transformation/reassignment from a man to a woman. Even in our era of wider acceptance of gay people, some kick ass rock music that tells the story of a transsexual person moving from one gender to another is pretty revolutionary. Not everyone will be comfortable with it. But for those who listen with an open mind, it is an amazing journey.

Burn Your Fire For No Witness – Angel Olsen
There is a whole swath of women in the indie rock world who have big, powerful voices who are immediately labelled as “Patsy Cline-esque”. Neko Case is likely the most famous. Bethany Cosentino is right there with her. Olsen is the latest entry into that group, and at her best, she can hang with anyone else in the neo-Patsy world.

This is a moody, uncomfortable album. It reminds me of a middle point between Case and The Cowboy Junkies, as Olsen often lets her songs simmer but never quite boil over.

The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas – Courtney Barnett
Technically this is not a 2014 release. Some of the songs were first released, in Barnett’s native Australia, in 2012. Then this package was released digitally in the States last fall, when I first fell in love with it. But it finally got a physical release in the US earlier this month, and has been riding a wave of airplay on SiriusXMU and positive press.

Barnett’s music is really like no one else’s. At first listen, it’s revamped early 90s indie rock for stoners. I love this description of her vocal style from this week’s Grantland feature on her:

Courtney Barnett sings songs like curlicues. They start straight before bending up and around, messily and unmanageable, loose swirls gathering up around the edges of a page, spindling beyond the margins. They’re full of non sequiturs or contorted aphorisms, and they lope along with all the eagerness of grazing cattle.

But after a couple listens, you begin to realize that her lyrics are really quite brilliant, and her mellow style makes them even more so. She’s in no hurry to share her genius and only offers it to those who put in the time to mine it.

Too Much Blue

Trees are budding out, lawns are greening up, mowers are being pulled out, allergies are popping up, and I’ve already got the first sunburn of the year.

Spring, at long last, has truly sprung.1

Which brings the annual wardrobe reevaluation, pitching aside shirts that have survived a couple of summers and are worse for the wear, or that I’m just no longer fond of, and going through the fun process of replacing them.

When I look at the side of my closet where I hang my short-sleeved shirts, I realize something: I have too much blue. I’d say two-thirds of my shirts are some shade of blue. Then a significant chunk of that final third is some shade of gray.

I’m in a fashion rut, I suppose.

Part of that is explainable by a simple truth: just about every sports team I follow features blue as one of its primary colors.

KU: blue.
Royals: blue.
Colts: blue.
I don’t have a Pacers shirt currently, but odds are if I did, it would be blue rather than gold.
If I buy a shirt for the World Cup, it would either be for the US or Italy. Blue and blue, although an American shirt obviously gives me plenty of chances to get away from blue.

I try to mix things up, but I can’t help myself. Maybe it stems from wearing too many white t-shirts with graphics on them in high school and college, but I just don’t dig on white shirts that much. And, try as I might to get an alternate color shirt for one of my teams, I can’t help myself and always seem to walk away with another blue one.

When we were in Kansas City earlier this month, for example, I told myself all I would buy on my trip to the Rally House was a new Royals hat. Naturally I walked out with a new Royals hat and a blue KU shirt. I tried to find a red or white or even gray shirt that worked, but the ones that kept jumping out at me were blue.

Good grief.

So I spent hours over the weekend shopping for summer shirts that A) have nothing to do with sports and B) are not blue or dark gray. It was hard. Because each time I was drawn to the same old shades.

In the end I ordered a couple cool shirts, one red and the other green. Neither repping a team. It’s a start, I guess.


  1. It did dip into the 30s last night/this morning. But that’s a blip, not a trend. 

When Logic Gets Cast Aside

Most of us have thought, at some point, that we could sway someone with different political views to our side if we just presented them with cold, hard facts showing that our view was correct.

Turns out even when the numbers support your argument, you are unlikely to change the opinion of someone from the other side.

Presented with this problem a funny thing happened: how good subjects were at math stopped predicting how well they did on the test. Now it was ideology that drove the answers. Liberals were extremely good at solving the problem when doing so proved that gun-control legislation reduced crime. But when presented with the version of the problem that suggested gun control had failed, their math skills stopped mattering. They tended to get the problem wrong no matter how good they were at math. Conservatives exhibited the same pattern — just in reverse.

Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart.

How Politics Makes Us Stupid

This is a really interesting article, and I recommend reading it even if you don’t give a damn about politics. For those who are into politics, it is even more illuminating. It goes to show how so many folks in Washington, elected or otherwise, can go to the “They’re just making the numbers up” argument and get so many people to believe them. As always, math is hard. And when it challenges our core beliefs it’s easier to believe the fuzzy math than it is to accept the real numbers and adjust our world view.

I found this tidbit about Congress interesting as well.

In the mid-20th century, the two major political parties were ideologically diverse. Democrats in the South were often more conservative than Republicans in the North. The strange jumble in political coalitions made disagreement easier. The other party wasn’t so threatening because it included lots of people you agreed with. Today, however, the parties have sorted by ideology, and now neither the House nor the Senate has any Democrats who are more conservative than any Republicans, or vice versa. This sorting has made the tribal pull of the two parties much more powerful because the other party now exists as a clear enemy.

Disney Notes

C., L., and I were at Target yesterday wasting time during M.’s kickball practice. The girls were looking through the toy aisles and came to a large, empty section that should have held all the toys related to Frozen. There were a couple Baby Anna dolls, but the rest of the area was barren. C. asked why it was so empty and I said I guessed the Frozen toys were still really popular.

Little did I know. A couple hours later I read this article and learned that there is, in fact, a huge shortage of Frozen toys, and a rather brisk secondary market has developed to fill the demand.

If you’re a parent, you know that each time a new Disney/Pixar film comes out the toy departments are flooded with tie-in merchandise, Radio Disney begins spinning songs from the movie in high rotation, and you can’t escape commercials from the movie in advance of its theatrical or DVD release. They have this down to a science.

That makes it surprising that Disney didn’t realize that Frozen would turn into such a phenomenon. We can’t spend more than 30 minutes in the car without hearing “Let It Go,” whether it is Idina Menzel’s original version or Demi Lovato’s radio version.1 L. will watch the movie three times a week. Even my nephew watched it every day when he was visiting. There’s some kind of special kid crack in this one. Hell, I even like it. Normally I use Disney Princess movie time as an excuse to nap. I’ll actually watch Frozen for a bit before drifting off.

One other quick Disney related note. We heard Katy Perry’s latest single “Birthday” this morning. Usually Radio Disney has kid-friendly versions of mainstream songs that remove inappropriate language and reduce the overt innuendo. So the chorus kind of surprised me:

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

OK, a little risqué but not anything grade schoolers will understand.

Then there’s this section:

Pop your confetti
Pop your Pérignon
So hot and heavy
’Til dawn

Ummmm. Maybe I’m a dirty old man but I think Katy may be talking about something else popping.

So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big balloons

Wow. When M. and C. pick up on the birthday suit line, they’re going to laugh. I’m guessing some boys in M.’s class won’t have any trouble assigning meaning to the big balloons line. They’ve seen Katy.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to turn even the most innocent of love songs into far more suggestive ditties. This one seems just a little advanced for the kid and tween-centric Radio Disney. We’ll see if I get any questions about what Perry is singing about. The girls don’t usually put much thought into lyrics, but at some point it’s bound to happen.

I don’t think you can discount the impact of the songs in the movie’s success. Before and immediately after the movie’s release, Disney pushed the radio-friendly Lovato version hard, including little interviews with the singer talking about how she was so proud and honored to be singing the song for a Disney princess film. About a month later, they dumped Menzel’s version on the radio. Talk about a 1-2 punch. Menzel’s rendition is, arguably, the best song ever from a Disney film. Throw in a version by a pop star the kids are crazy for, and there was no resisting it. I find myself walking around humming it to myself. Six months after the movie came out. And I’m not sick of it. Yikes. ↩

A Night About Nothing

This is so great in so many ways.

The Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team will be hosting a Seinfeld night on July 5, the 25th anniversary of the “Seinfeld Chronicles,” the original name for “Seinfeld.” They’ve put some thought into this. Activities will include:

  • MCU Park will known as Vandelay Industries Park for one night only.
  • Mailmen in uniform get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch (“Hello Newman!”)
  • Anyone who has a business card indicating that they are in fact a “Latex Salesman” will also receive a free ticket to the game. If we call the number and it’s some apartment on the Upper East Side, you won’t qualify for the freebie.
  • Fans can visit the information table for an “airing of grievances.”
  • Closest to the pin / whale’s blow hole competition (“Is that a Titleist?”)
  • The foul poles will be known as Festivus Poles.
  • “Low-Talking” PA Announcer.
  • Elaine Dancing Contest
  • Players in puffy shirts for batting practice.

That is some good stuff. I can’t see anyone doing something like this for a current show 25 years from now.

Brave New Worlds

Three large pieces of news. Well, maybe not to everyone. But enough to justify a new post.

First, C., after nearly a year of being close, decided she was ready to ride a bike without training wheels over the weekend. Twice last summer she was on the verge of staying on two wheels full-time, but each time she went back to her bike with training wheels.

She’s complained for some time about her training wheel bike. She hates the loud clatterings of the training wheels. Saturday she decided enough was enough. S. helped her cruise around for about five minutes and then turned her loose. She zipped along with no problem and never stopped over our gorgeous weekend.

She does struggle with stopping. Like many kids, she doesn’t quite grasp the concept of the coaster brake. Being C., she doesn’t even really try to slow down. She just puts her foot down and then leaps off before the bike crashes. I have a feeling this will be a problem at some point.

But the good news is she’s made a big leap in the transition from little girl to big girl. It’s fun to watch her and M. zipping around together.

L. got to move up to C.’s old bike, which made her happy. But I think she really wants to try going on two wheels too. I’m not quite ready to do that yet.

Next, M. began her kickball career last week. Her team played their sister team from St. P’s and got pounded. It’s damn near impossible to follow the score if you don’t have access to the scorebook, but the score was in the range of 45-20. Not the best start for her team, although I learned afterward that they were missing four or five girls who were either sick or had other activities that evening, and another girl had to leave early. Hopefully attendance will be better going forward.

M. had a solid day. She went to the plate four times and reached safely three times. She scored a run. She got forced at third once. And then she was standing on second when the final out of the game was recorded.

In the field she mostly chased the ball and then quickly threw it back to the infield. But she was paying attention the entire time, which was the important thing.

Game number two was scheduled for Monday night but postponed due to some Lenten church activities 1 and the rain and cold that was moving in.

Expect a post detailing all the highlights of a typical CYO kickball game in the near future.

Finally, not nearly as important in the grand scheme of things, but significant nonetheless, we’ve cut the cable cord. Kind of.

After hemming and hawing for over a year, we decided to slash our cable stream down to just the local channels in high definition. This seemed like the time to do it as A) summer entertainment expenses are coming up, B) college basketball is over and the need for multiple ESPN outlets is gone, C) our TV time will dwindle anyway as the weather gets warmer, and D) most of my TV time will revolve around MLB.TV, which streams through our Apple TV.

I’m sure others have made a similar investigation, but the cable companies and content providers, especially ESPN, really have customers over the barrel when you attempt to trim your costs. To go from the plan we were on down to the next lower plan, which still had lots of non-local content but cost us the ESPN and Kids tiers, would only save us about $15 a month. From there you have to go down to local channels only if you want to cut costs.

I figure we can do this until late November/early December and then reevaluate. Every Colts game will be on local TV. I can manage just watching whatever college football games the broadcast networks air. And there’s always the Watch ESPN app on the Apple TV, which I’m hoping will allow me to watch the World Cup and then the occasional ESPN game I’m missing. The girls still have plenty of choices on Netflix and the various Disney apps on Apple TV.

And even with boosting our broadband speed to allow for better streaming, we’ll be saving about $50 a month.

In general I’m a fan of the tiered cable service, as that allows for a lot of niche programming, especially networks aimed at kids, to get support that they would lack if cable was a la carte. As our girls get older, though, and we’re less in need of programming aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, I’m growing more fond of paying for only what you absolutely need.

Games are played in the school parking lot, which also serves as the church parking lot. ↩

Zander

The name Zander Hollander may not mean much to the majority of my readers. But for some of us, mostly men who grew up in the late 70s and early 80s loving sports, he played a huge role in our formative years as sports fans.

Mr. Hollander, who was the creative force behind the Complete Handbook series, died last week at the age of 91.

One of the few splurge purchases I was allowed to make when I was young, and my parents were short on cash, was the occasional book from the Scholastic book flyers that came home from school. Whenever one of Hollander’s new guides to the NFL, NBA, or MLB appeared, I pounced on it. Once it arrived, I quickly turned to the section on my favorite team and devoured all the profiles and stats. Then I flipped around and read the details on my favorite players who weren’t on my team of choice. Then I’d read through the reviews of the previous season and previews of the coming season. Eventually, I made it through the whole thing, although never from front-to-back.

As this terrific profile from last summer states, Hollander’s books were the best source for information-hungry sports fans in the pre-Internet era. They were jam-packed with statistics, schedules, and essays to keep you busy for months, but small enough to throw into your book bag or take along wherever you went.

I think I’ll go dig through the boxes in the attic and see if, by chance, any of my old Complete Handbooks have survived 30-plus years of moves and purges.

For Sports Fans, Before the Internet, There Were the Complete Handbooks

The Walkman

Another quick one before the weekend begins.

A couple sites have linked to this modern, design-based review of the Sony Walkman. It focuses on form rather than function, but is still interesting to read/look at.

Like the iPod, the Walkman isn’t truly the first of its kind. There was a cassette player before it called the Stereobelt. It was big, ugly, expensive and only lived on as a patent. What the Walkman did was make the idea of a portable cassette player into a marketable, attractive consumer product. That’s the genius of Sony.

Sony Walkman TPS-L2

It’s fun to look back and see how dramatically personal music consumption has changed within our generation’s lives. Through most of our first decade, the only way to listen to music, on your own, around town, was to carry a small transistor radio and listen via a single ear bud. No stereo sound sound for you! And you were limited to whatever stations were within reach of your radio’s antenna.

Then the Walkman came along and offered you freedom. You could throw a cassette in and listen to the songs of your choosing, skipping the ones you didn’t like or listening to your favorites over-and-over. Throw another cassette in your pocket, or a handful into your briefcase/purse/backpack, and you were set for the day.

During the Walkman era, any traveling I did meant I had my knockoff Walkman and headphones in my bag, and a small carrier that held 12 cassettes in their cases. That made those long car trips across Kansas and Missouri, or the occasional flight to California and back, more tolerable.

And then the iPod changed things exponentially. Today you can cart along pretty much every song you own, each instantly accessible, and carry the device into your front pocket. An iPod Nano will even tuck into the coin pocket in your jeans. Or you can stream every song you could ever want to hear, on demand, straight to your phone.

Pretty amazing. And makes you wonder what could possibly be the next step.

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