Month: September 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Reader’s Notebook, 9/29/20

My reading pace has fallen way off over the past month. I tried to start a book I was very much looking forward to reading but couldn’t focus and gave up. That lack of focus is most of the problem. Where I’m usually itchy and nervous if I’m not reading in my free time, I currently lack the motivation or excitement to start something new.

I also got new glasses a few weeks back and my eyes, as always, are slow to adjust to the new prescription, which makes it difficult to read at times.

To add the issues, I just found out the library up in Carmel, where I still go most often, is currently closed for a month as they begin a big renovation/addition. They are moving part of the library to a temporary location and are using September to get settled in that part-time spot. I don’t know how much of their collection is getting moved, so I’m not sure if the browsing experience will be what it used to be. I may have to stick with the Kindle or even buy a physical book for a change.

I did manage to read two books over the past few weeks.


Not Tonight, Josephine. A Road Trip Through Small-Town America – George Mahood
I think I got this for free, or for like a buck, after I bought a couple other Kindle books for our Florida trip. I figured it might be a quick, light read that I could use to try to get my reading mojo back.

It is Mahood’s story of the year he spent traveling around the US in a extremely used minivan. Mahood is British and came over with a friend in 2002. Their plan was to spend the year traveling the entire continental US. But his friend had visa issues which only allowed him to accompany Mahood from New York to California. Mahood’s girlfriend joined him in Colorado and completed the final third of the trip with him.

As I said, the trip was made in an extremely used minivan, which they named Josephine. They purchased her from a somewhat dodgy Brazilian near Woodstock, NY for $800. They had barely crossed into New Jersey when the van required a new transmission. Over the trip they also had to add a replacement for the back tailgate, which they salvaged from a junk yard and was from a different colored van. There were new tires needed, as the ones that came on the van were mismatched in size. And another series of fairly serious repairs were required when Mahood landed in Colorado and worked as a cook and food delivery man during the ski season.

Normally I would love books like this. But Mahood never quite carves out a unique voice for his story. It is a light accounting of his trip, but it doesn’t come close to the quality of other light-hearted travelogues I’ve read. Nor does he do deep, serious dives into topics. It reads more like a slightly brushed-up version of the journal he kept while traveling. Which is fine, especially for the price. But it didn’t make me want to read any of his other travel books.


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin
This takes place in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi. It explores the troubled friendship between two men: Silas “32” Jones and Larry Ott.

“32,” still called by his high school baseball number, is the town constable. Although not everyone in town is thrilled at having a Black man as the town cop, he is largely respected for his office, for the legend of his high school career that took him to Ole Miss, and for his service in the Navy.

Ott, on the other hand, is the town outcast. In high school he took a well-known girl out for a date and she was never seen again. Although there was never any evidence that he did anything to cause her disappearance, it has been held against him for over 30 years. People shun him in every aspect of his life. The auto shop he runs never gets business. Drunken teenagers vandalize his property. It is a horrible existence, but he hangs on to try to support his mother who he has put in an elderly care center.

Ott is shot one night and Jones is part of the initial investigation before the county sheriff and state agencies take over. Being in Ott’s home begins to free up memories of their childhoods and the brief period when they were friends. It also stirs up how Jones came to live in Mississippi with his mother and leads to an unexpected explanation for who is father is.

Eventually Jones discovers who is responsible for Ott’s shooting and for the disappearance of both girls. But to crack the case, he must reveal secrets he has kept locked away for nearly 25 years.

As a mystery, the story is fine. Franklin does a decent job of taking you down the path to resolution of the story’s central questions.

I liked how Franklin explored how race and gender and social status and conventional wisdom push us into corners in relationships where we feel stuck. How it is easier to go along with what everyone else believes or says than to dig in to discover uncomfortable truths. And how it is also easier to keep your mouth shut than to admit flaws in your past.

My favorite part, though, was in his look at how men befriend each other. The barriers we put up to opening up to others. The difficulty in finding people who share your interests. The willingness to let the world know that you and this other weird guy may have something in common. And the struggles to overcome and move past difficult moments in a shared past.

Weekend Notes

It’s time for the weekly Monday sports review!


Gale

Gale Sayers was waaaaaay before my time. He retired about six months after I was born, and his final two years in the NFL were slowed by a series of serious injuries that robbed him of his breath-taking speed. But there were uncles, and friends of uncles, and other people their age who would get emotional when they talked about watching him play in his prime. I once had a boss who was from Chicago and grew up in the ‘60s. This man was gruff and cold and rarely smiled or laughed. But if you mentioned Gale Sayers to him, he would soften and talk about how he had never seen anything like Gale when he played for the Bears.

Gale Sayers died last week. He was the greatest football player to ever play at the University of Kansas, either at KU or as a pro. That’s not saying much, it being Kansas football and all. Which makes it more amazing that one of the most gifted running backs to ever play the game, someone who everybody who saw play in his prime said would be just at home in the modern game as in his era, was a Jayhawk.

Another thing about Gale: pretty much everyone who ever came across him in his post-playing days said he was one of the nicest, most unaffected former athletes they had ever dealt with. They always said he was warm and genuine.

Sayers wasn’t celebrated much when I was on campus. Which is a shame. As big of a deal as it was for Wilt Chamberlain to finally come back to campus in 1997, Sayers should have been welcomed back as often as he was willing to return. We all knew the names and stories of basketball legends of the past. Gale’s story really should have been drummed into our heads so that we knew, even if we never saw him play with our own eyes, how lucky we were that he was a Jayhawk.


KU Football

I didn’t play close attention to the build-up to last week’s game against Baylor since the game was in doubt until Friday due to Covid concerns on the Baylor roster. So perhaps I missed signals that a change was coming.

Thus I was surprised on Saturday when I saw the tweets that true freshman Jalon Daniels would be starting at quarterback. The coaching staff seemed thrilled when he committed and signed last year, but I don’t think I ever heard his name in the preseason. I wondered if he wasn’t ready for the challenges of college ball yet.

But Saturday he started well. I couldn’t see the game, only highlights that hit Twitter, but he was much bigger than I expected. Writers say he has a huge arm. He made a ton of mistakes, but also played with a swagger and confidence KU hasn’t had in a long, long time. His mistakes were out of ignorance and brashness rather than cluelessness or ineptitude.

KU played a lot of first year players Saturday. They lost 47-14. The first sentence in more important than the second. Les Miles and his staff are doing it right. They’ve filled their first three recruiting classes almost exclusively with high school players. That’s step one. Step two is playing those kids, for better or for worse. If you believe in their talent you get them on the field and let them learn by going through adversity. It sure as hell won’t pay off this year. It may not pay off next year. But unlike the wishy-washy half measures the last three coaches have taken at least this is a concrete path to the future.

Starting Daniels is the most obvious piece of this plan. To be fair, he started because at least one of the QBs who played week one was not healthy enough to play this week. But throwing Daniels out there also sends a message to this year’s recruiting class: if you’re good enough, you can get on the field quick. And look at this kid and his potential, don’t you want to be a part of what he’s going to do?

Offered with the usual caveat that this is KU football and any glimmers of hope are more likely to be brutally crushed than offer even meager payoffs.


Alex Gordon

This was Alex Gordon’s final weekend as a professional baseball player. Most of my readers are Royals fans, and thus read the many tributes to Alex over the weekend. I feel like most of what I would write would repeat those, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

Alex was the first guy who made me believe the Royals’ fortunes would change. He was the best player in college, grew up a Royals fan, and they managed to not fuck up the draft and pick him when he was waiting for them. He roared through the minors. This was it, the next great cornerstone of the franchise!

Then it didn’t exactly work out like we all planned it to. He retires being responsible for the biggest hit in franchise history, being beloved by the fanbase, and almost certain to have his number retired. But it was a bumpy road to get there, and even when he righted himself after early struggles, he still had a strange career. There was the offensive peak from 2011 until he got injured in 2015. Even then, though, he would be white hot for three weeks, then go stone cold for three weeks. He would hit the biggest, loudest, most majestic home runs you have ever seen, then look lost for weeks at a time.

He worked his ass off to become the best left fielder in the game. He may have worked too hard and hurt himself at the plate, but you could never, ever question his dedication or worth ethic. He was not the demonstrative leader that Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, or Salvador Perez were. Yet he was also the unquestioned guy that everyone looked up to.

There’s a part of me that will always view Alex’s career as a slight disappointment. He was a career .257 hitter with an OPS+ of 102. As good as he was in 2011 and 2012, if feels like he should have extended that success over a 4-5 year stretch. His defensive play always made up for his struggles at the plate, though. And “Gordon in the air to center…back, at the wall…this game is tied!” will always make up for any disappointment at his career numbers.


Kid Hoops

L’s first CYO basketball game of the year was Sunday. I am back on the bench as an assistant coach this year. We played a school we lost to by eight last year, mostly thanks to a third quarter in which we were outscored 6-0.

We led 7-5 at halftime and used a 8-0 run in the third quarter to break the game open. We got a little sloppy late but still closed it out to win 17-7.

L had four points. She hit a couple jumpers, one from a step inside the 3-point line. She also missed at least 80 layups and was 0-2 from the line. We will be spending a lot of time on layups at practice this week. I believe our team went 1-852 on layups.

I am responsible for the offense we run and the girls, well, they did not run it well. It’s a (theoretically) simple pass-and-cut offense that you can run against about any defense. They were passing and cutting, but then no one looked for the ball or posted up after their cuts. And no one looked at the cutters for a quick hit. Well, L did throw one toward a cutter late in the game, but the cutter never looked at the ball, and the defense had switched to zone so there were three defenders waiting to grab the pass.

Our defense, though, was awesome. We are pretty small and mostly fast. The team we played was bigger and slower. Our girls attacked every loose ball, jumped in the passing lanes, pressured the ball, and generally created havoc on the defensive end. Not exaggerating, we had at least 20 breakaway layup attempts that came off of steals. If we could get to even 50% on those we would be in really good shape, because half court offense is always going to be a struggle. That is middle school basketball for you.


MLB

Still trying to figure out how the playoffs work. I’ve been pretty checked out of baseball for the past month so need to start paying attention again.


NBA

Not sure if it is the bubble environment, the lack of crowds and travel, or just the strangeness of 2020, but Miami is making the playoffs feel more like an NCAA tournament. They are the team that got hot at the right time and never fade in the big moments. Some friends of mine and I like to make fun of Jimmy Butler and how he thinks he’s a superstar. If he gets the Heat to a title, I guess he can laugh at us. Lakers in six.

Friday Playlist

Another week when I’m not terribly prepared to share a playlist of (mostly) new music. I’ve reached the point in the year when I start looking backwards and doing some tentative work on my Favorite Songs of the Year list. While there has been plenty of new music in the middle half of the year, and some of that music quite good, there’s clearly been a drop off from a very good start to the year. Obviously much of this is because of Covid and the lockdown. I wonder if the pace/quality of new music will begin to pickup as we get further away from the initial lockdown and more bands have had time to write/record music together.

Anyway, I put Spotify on shuffle this morning and this is what it spit out.

“Love Steals Us From Loneliness” – Idlewild
What a great band. They had such a good stretch in the early-to-mid ’00s and then kind of faded away.

“Bring The Noise” – Public Enemy
It has been far too long since I’ve listened to all of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. With the current state of our country, the album seems as relevant as ever.

“Sulk” – Radiohead
For all its many accolades, I believe The Bends is the great overlooked album in Radiohead’s catalog. Maybe I just say that because it is my favorite. A phenomenal straight rock album by a band who soon chose a very different path.

“The Boy In the Bubble” – Paul Simon
I love this song. And I know the lyrics. But until this morning I never realized Simon was mapping out territory that Radiohead would explore on OK Computer: that technology was overwhelming humans. The line “Staccato signals of constant information” is the one that really jumps out at me as an influence point for the general themes found on OK Computer.

“See A Little Light” – Bob Mould
Mould has a new album out today. Spotify wanted to make sure we all remembered that.

“Yellow Cotton Dress” – Wussy
“It becomes a motherfucker when you fill it out.” Amen, brother.

More Check Marks

A couple kid milestones to share.


First, C got her braces taken off yesterday. This was both early and late. She was originally pegged to be in them 22–24 months, and this was just month 17. But it was also late because she missed an appointment during lockdown so likely would have had them removed 4–6 weeks ago had she stayed on that schedule.

She was thrilled to get them removed, although a bit bummed that some of the ceremony that goes with having them taken off has been wiped out by the Covid era. No little celebration in the office, no basket of popcorn and candy. We’ll make up for that some other way, so it all evens out.

Her teeth look great. The only bummer was that she – in a total shock – got some calcification/discoloration from eating too much sugar and letting it sit under her braces too long. Mom was not pleased with that but it was kind of a sure thing to happen to that kid. She will now wear her retainer 24/7 for 10 weeks before being evaluated again.

Now two down on the braces tip, L likely to start her routine in the next calendar year.


The other milestone is that M was elected as a sophomore class officer.

A few weeks back she told us that she wanted to run for student council. “Cool, go for it!” was our response. A couple days later she said she changed her mind and wanted to run for class officer. Which confused me. “What’s the difference?” I asked. “Aren’t class officers part of student council?” Or at least that’s the way I remember it from 30+ years go when I was in high school.

She explained that student council and class officers are two different groups at CHS, and have two different sets of responsibilities.

Whatever, we were still supportive and onboard.

Unlike the old days where parents would help their kids make posters and buttons or whatever when running in a school election, now kids can kind of do it all on their own. M had to submit a video, and a couple of her friends helped with that. She never showed it to us so I have no idea what she said or what her tone was.

She dropped it into the appropriate digital folder and waited anxiously for election day. There were 14 or 15 kids running, and the top 7–8 vote getters would be the winners. The kid that got the most votes would be class president, the remaining winners would all get the same title of class officer. No secretary, treasurer, etc.

Election Day arrived and she was nervous. That nervousness increased when they extended voting an extra day. Given all the controversy about the act of voting in federal, state, and local elections right now I couldn’t help but wonder why voting was being extended and who made the decision. Then I remember that it was high school and the likely aim was to get more kids to vote.

She was hoping to hear the evening of the second day of voting. Students used a Google form to submit their votes so it wasn’t like teachers were counting slips of paper. But no email came out that night and she got more nervous.

The next day, right around lunch time, she texted me that she had been elected. She was pretty excited. One of her friends from St P’s also made the cut.

Her first task is helping to pick the class theme for homecoming. I’ve had to drop her off extra early at school the past two Wednesdays so she can attend meetings. After that they will plan one of the dances and another event in the spring. Assuming any of that happens.

Regardless of what they do and if they get to do it, it’s a cool accomplishment and a nice addition to her list of activities when it comes time to send out college applications.

It is always interesting to watch your kids accomplish things. M and I are very alike in many ways. That’s why we argue the most. But she also has a healthy dose of her mother. I would never have run for any kind of school election. She is much more outgoing than I was at the same age. I don’t know what her actual level of popularity is, but from my perspective she seems pretty popular. That’s all from her mom.

While I’m sure she has plenty of teenage hangups, she seems a lot more comfortable in her own skin than I ever did in high school. I’ve always said I had no worries about her finding a path in life. So far she’s proving me correct in that assessment.

Weekend Notes

It was a weekend dominated by watching sports, mostly on the TV.


Friday night we went to an (outdoor) fundraiser that a high school friend of S’s was throwing. This is her pal who nearly died of Covid back in April. He brought together a few well-connected friends he has (one is an NBA player) to throw a neighborhood concert that would raise money for families that were struggling with expenses because of Covid-related hospital stays.

It was a perfect fall night, the first Friday night this season you had to throw a jacket on to be outside. It would have been great to be at a high school football game. But the concert was fun. There were a lot of St P’s families there. We hung with a few of S’s high school friends. We very briefly met the NBA player.

Throughout the night we were following the CHS game. They were playing the #8 large class team from Ohio. Last year the two teams went to overtime with St X winning. This year CHS won by three, getting a late interception as St X was driving for a potential tying/winning score. They are now 5–0.


Sunday I watched some chunks of the Colts game. They looked pretty good despite losing three more important players to injuries. Since key players getting injured seems to be a trend around the league, I’m starting to think the healthiest team in January will be the true Super Bowl favorite. I caught the end of the Dallas-Atlanta game, which was just stupid. Then again, if any team knows how to blow an un-blowable lead, it is the Falcons. We had dinner plans so missed the late games and the first half of the night game, although what I did get to see of the Pats-Seahawks game was highly entertaining.

I watched most of the fourth quarter of the Lakers-Nuggets game, and that was absolutely terrific drama!


I missed some NFL during the day because I watched C cheer at the St P’s cadet football game. She had told me the team wasn’t very good, which is saying something since she knows nothing about football. But they were playing another allegedly bad team so there was hope. After a scoreless first quarter parents were mumbling about a 0–0 tie. But St C found a huge weakness in the St P’s defense, forced four turnovers, and won 22–0. It’s painful watching bad middle school teams try to play football. Most of the kids are too small to tackle. The offenses suck. The defenses are terrible. The parents are constantly complaining. Granted, all middle school sports are kind of a train wreck. But football seems a little extra bad. I had this thought two years ago when M cheered: how on earth are all the Catholic high schools around here good-to-great at football when CYO football is soooo bad?


Most of my weekend sports time was devoted to watching hours and hours of the US Open. Which was terrific…until Sunday. I am not a Bryson DeChambeau fan. Which is a shame because he’s a remarkable player and just had a legendary performance in the final round of a major. But he’s both insufferable and generally full of shit, which makes it very hard to get onboard with him. I wish I could like him, because he is very much about doing things different than what conventional wisdom suggests, which is something that golf needs. But his personality is soooooo grating that I can’t get over it.[1]

He’s definitely the future of PGA golf, though, and us haters are going to have to get used to him. Even if he doesn’t dominate the way Tiger in his prime did, more and more golfers are going to begin following his path of bulking up to chase speed and distance. Even if he isn’t always winning, golfers who resemble him both physically and in their game will.

I’m not sure that’s great. Anyone who plays golf wants to it as far as they possibly can. But Bryson makes a mockery of courses, even ones that have been stretched out and allegedly toughened up to fight the big bombers like him. It’s clear that superintendents, the PGA Tour, and USGA have no idea how to set up courses to prevent distance from being such a huge factor without making them impossible to play for the guys who don’t hit it 300+ with the driver. And the PGA/USGA don’t want to piss off the equipment manufacturers but putting greater limits on either driver size or performance, or taking some juice out of the ball (or putting spin back into it). Golf writer Andy Johnson has been saying for some time that golf is headed where men’s tennis went a decade ago, when racquets got so hot that long rallies disappeared and matches became, essentially, serving contests. The ATP did take some juice out of the tennis ball a few years ago. I don’t watch enough tennis to know if that has made much of a difference.

I don’t know what the right answer for golf is. The sport has a long history of the pros and weekend duffers being able to play the exact same equipment on the exact same courses. When the pro game begins to turn into a completely different sport, where long and middle irons aren’t needed anymore, it may be time to re-examine that relationship and whether the pros should be forced to play scaled-back equipment.

As much as I dislike Bryson, I can’t help but be impressed with how rapidly he has changed both his body and his game. Just over a year ago he said he wanted to gain a bunch of weight to help him swing faster and harder. He gained a solid chunk during the brief winter off-season, and then another chunk during the lockdown. He’s something like 40 pounds heavier than he was a year ago. The gains in his game were immediately apparent. But a lot of people, me included, didn’t think he could manage to hit the ball insanely far and keep it relatively straight. He will occasionally go off the rails a little, but it is utterly remarkable how well he controls the ball off the tee. When he turned pro he was not a good putter. Since the restart he’s been putting incredibly well. His wedges were always his issue. Suddenly in the last month they’ve turned into a plus rather than a minus. Someone on Twitter today pointed out that Rory McIlRoy has been trying to figure out his wedges and putter for five years. Bryson apparently fixed them in less than a calendar year. Insane.

It was also a little disappointing that the tournament didn’t turn into the usual absolute carnage that the US Open is famous for. There were big numbers, to be sure, and only two players were at par or better. But it didn’t feel like the disaster so many Opens of the past have been. And when I say disaster I mean in a good way for the viewer. I love watching the pros look like me, battering the ball from one side of the rough to the other, or having no idea where it will end up thanks to course conditions. Bryson and the other young bombers out there may have ended that era.


  1. It doesn’t help, for me, that he’s a big supporter of our president. Which, to be fair, most pro golfers are and I don’t count it against a lot of them. But when you already dislike someone, that just makes it worse.  ↩

Friday Vids

For most of this week I’ve been listening to A) the new Doves album, which is awesome, and B) working through Steven Hyden’s The Best Bruce Springsteen Songs, Ranked list. As of Thursday night I am just past the mid-point of the list. I’ve discovered some songs that are new to me that I’ve really enjoyed while building more respect for and knowledge of The Boss’ full catalog.

Because of that, I haven’t listened to much new music. So a slightly different format this week.

“Celebration” – Kool & the Gang
Last week Ronald Bell, one of the founding members of Kool & The Gang and writer/co-writer of some of their biggest hits, died at age 68. This stone-cold classic was his. I had no idea he wrote it after picking up a Bible in a hotel room.

“Pressure Drop” – Toots and the Maytals
A couple days after Bell’s death we lost “Toots” Hibbert to Covid-19. Toots was one of the absolute giants of reggae music. Where Bob Marley was the heart of reggae, Hibbert was its soul. This song has been covered dozens of times, most notably by the Clash. Their version introduced me, and a million other white boys, to Toots’ unforgettable voice.

“She’s the One” – Bruce Springsteen & The E. Street Band
One of the joys of the streaming age is how you can find songs you missed. I’ve loved “Born to Run” the song for 35-40 years now. But I never listened to the entire Born to Run album until sometime in the early 2010s, when I could easily queue it up and listen at my leisure. I still remember the first time I did that, which would have been the first time I ever heard this song. Coming immediately after “Born to Run,” in a spot you might think reserved for a song that allowed you to catch your breath, it totally blew me away. And this live performance is pure fire, as the kids today might say. Look at Clarence and Little Steven!

Tops of Eighty Four

It only took six weeks for Tom Breihan to roll through the 20 number one songs of 1984. 1985 has some bangers, for sure, but we’re approaching the point where I’ll be more interested in his words than in the songs themselves.

In the comments, people ranked the Number Ones of 1984 in their preferred order. Believe it or not I’m not registered to comment; not sure why but I’ve never signed up. I have a blog, though, and feel obligated to share my rankings of the chart topping songs of the greatest year in pop music.

1 – “Let’s Go Crazy” – Prince and the Revolution
2 – “When Doves Cry” – Prince and the Revolution
3 – “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper
4 – “Out of Touch” – Daryl Hall & John Oates
5 – “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – Yes
6 – “What’s Love Got to Do With It” – Tina Turner
7 – “Say Say Say” – Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
8 – “Missing You” – John Waite
9 – “Jump” – Van Halen
10 – “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” – Deniece Williams
11 – “Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker, Jr.
12 – “Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club
13 – “Caribbean Queen” – Billy Ocean
14 – “Like a Virgin” – Madonna
15 – The Reflex” – Duran Duran
16 – “Footloose” – Kenny Loggins
17 – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham!
18 – “Against All Odds” – Phil Collins
19 – “Hello” – Lionel Richie
20 – “I Just Called to Say I Love You” -Stevie Wonder

End of Two Seasons and A Career

The fall 2020 kickball season has come to an end for our family.

L’s team capped their season Wednesday with a run-rule win against the nearest parish. L had a grand slam, a three-run triple, and a single to close out the season.

She didn’t kick quite as well this year as in the past. I’m not sure if that’s because she hasn’t played soccer in a year, or just from her body changing – she’s stretched out more over the past few months – and her form changing along with it. She’s becoming more like C, though, and kicking line drives then racing around the bases. There are a couple girls that are probably faster than her in a straight line. But no one runs the bases like she does. Her grand slam was legit, though, a towering ball that an outfielder couldn’t contain and rolled all the way to the school building.


C’s team had their final game Thursday. It was against a school we’ve had issues with for years. We beat them like a drum back in fifth grade. But something happened between that game and sixth grade. Our girls all seemed to plateau while the St J’s girls all got bigger, recruited some friends, and figured the game out. Not only had they beaten us something like five-straight, including earlier this season, but some bad blood had developed between us and their coaches. Their coach is super competitive, as are we, but always acts like she doesn’t know the rules. She’s been coaching long enough where she damn well should know them. Our head coach is our school rules expert, and it drives her nuts when this coach pretends she doesn’t know what is going on.

And weird things tend to happen in these games. Once it started sprinkling during the game, then raining a little harder. The umpire refused to stop the game and a couple of our parents yanked their kids off the field in the middle of an inning. Another time C felt like she was going to throw up and had to exit in the middle of the game, likely costing us that game. Our head coaches also argued about when to reschedule another game that was rained out, and a third game that was halted because of darkness three innings in. And we ALWAYS seem to get some crazy umpire when we play them. In our first meeting this year we got a total dick who refused to call St. J girls out for crossing the kicking line because he said it was too hard for him to see it.[1] Then he yelled at our head coach, telling her to “Come out here and see what I can see!” when she attempted to protest.

In short, when we play St. J it always ends up being some super stressful night that isn’t fun at all. Plus we lose.

When we rolled up to the field Thursday my stomach did a flip. We had the umpire from M’s infamous “Longest Game Ever” three years ago. This was the umpire that made two absolutely horrific, and wrong according to the rules, calls that nearly cost us the game. It was the maddest I’ve ever been during a game and the only time I’ve decided to chat with an umpire following a game.

L’s team had her earlier this year and she missed a couple calls against us in a close game.

Just freaking great.

We gave up eight runs in the first inning. Not a great start. We got a few back in our half, played better D, and slowly chipped away. In the third inning the umpire made a “wrong by the rules” call. In kickball a runner at first is in play if she turns back inside fair territory to get back to first. Doesn’t matter if their intent is to go back to first. A St. J girl did that, our girl playing first tagged her out, but the umpire refused to rule her out. Our head coach went out to discuss, but the umpire would not change her call. Between innings they had a chat and the umpire admitted she was wrong. Fortunately we got that girl out at second so it didn’t alter the score.

But my blood pressure was rising.

We continued to play well on defense and took a three-run lead into the seventh.

We gave up five and St. J had the bases loaded with two outs when their kicker stepped over the kicking line when she made contact. The head coach and I started yelling, “SHE’S OUT!” The umpire gave us a look, nodded, waited until the girl passed first, then called her out. Redemption!

Now we needed two runs to tie, three to win, with the heart of our order coming up. Our best kicker was first. She’s a lefty and kicked the longest ball I’ve ever seen on our field. She easily scampered home for the first run. We got a runner on, made an out, then had another big kicker come up with a runner on second. She blasted one, bringing home the tying run and ended up on second. We had a good, if inconsistent kicker up next. She sent a low liner toward the shortstop. It skipped, got by her, and bounded into the outfield. I coach third and was screaming at our runner, “COME ON, COME ON, GO! GO! GO!” windmilling my arm and sending her home. She scored easily, our girls all lost their shit, and they ended their careers with a very sweet win.

Whew. I literally smacked our head coach in the shoulder when we got to our bench. “HOW ABOUT THAT!?!?” I yelled at her. The girls hugged, took pictures, thanked their classmates that had come to support them, and we headed to Dairy Queen for an ice cream celebration. And then the St. J’s team all showed up. That was a liiiiiiittle bit awkward. With Covid restrictions in mind, we claimed one side of the patio, they stuck to the other, and the peace was kept.

C got on three times and scored a couple runs. She had one play where she was able to open up and fly around the bases, scoring from first. One of the St. J’s players said, “Wow!” as C passed her at full speed.

That is what I’m always going to remember and miss about C. Once she figured the game out, she was the best player in her grade for about three years. In sixth grade she was one of the very best players in the entire school, both because of her kicking and speed and the way she could basically play the entire infield.

She’s lost some of that over the past year. Her kicking isn’t as consistent, but she still occasionally really got into one. Her fielding took a huge step back. I think all those blasts up front, and resulting injuries, wore her down.[2] But the girl could still fly when she got on base.

M and C had very different kickball careers. M was always on great teams, but was often the weakest player on the team. C was on a bunch of mediocre to bad teams, but usually was the most complete player on the team.

I have two favorite memories of C’s kickball years.

The first was in fifth grade. I don’t remember the details of the game. I just know she kicked a couple home runs and made a ton of plays in the field. That night a friend of ours with a daughter on the team sent me a screenshot of the text her son, who is in M’s grade, sent her after the game. He said that his sister made a couple nice plays and that C “Had the greatest kickball performance I’ve ever seen.” I show that to C every year when it pops up in my Timehop memories.

Second was a moment in sixth grade. I was keeping score and the mom/grandma keeping score for the other team kept bragging about her daughter/granddaughter and how fast she was. “Yeah, you’re not going to throw her out,” when we tried to throw her out at first. She told me how the girl was the fastest on the St. C cross country team. I nodded and smiled, not saying a word about C’s speed, and knowing C had beaten her at every XC meet that season.

Fairly early in the game this girl was on first and the ball got away from our pitcher, rolling behind home plate. The runner saw this and took off, getting to second easily and turning towards third. C had taken off after the ball immediately, picked it up a good 10 feet behind home plate as the girl was rounding second, and then roared across the field to tag the girl out a step before she got to third. Giggling the entire time.

The mom/grandma literally gasped and made some semi-snotty comment about how it was a lucky play to her kid when she checked in with us as out. It was very hard for me not to say “DON’T EVER FUCKING RUN ON CB AGAIN!” I did say it to myself. Bitches.

Those moments of speed are the biggest thing I will remember about C’s career. She could be moody, get down on herself, and mentally check out. I lost track of how many games she started crying in, whether because she was getting beaten up by the ball or was frustrated with the umpire. But when that girl got a chance to run, she was so much fun to watch.


  1. There is a line in front of home plate that kickers are not supposed to cross when they kick. I know there is an official distance this line is supposed to be in front of home, but it differs on every diamond. If a girl steps over the line and kicks a fair ball, she is supposed to be out.  ↩
  2. She had her worst injury a couple weeks back. She was pitching and took an absolutely crushed ball right in the hand. It bent her hand completely backward and she immediately burst into tears and came out of the game. I was worried her wrist was broken. It turned out she just had a nasty hematoma that lasted about a week. S said the force of the ball likely burst a blood vessel in C’s arm. I’ve been trying to tell you all for years how rough real kickball is!  ↩

Football!

Football is back! After three weeks of high school action, the college and pro ranks joined in this weekend to give us another nudge towards a sense of normalcy.

Let’s run through the weekend’s happenings.


High School

CHS played arch rival BCHS on Friday. CHS was ranked #1 in 5A, BCHS #1 in 3A. Despite the difference in size (CHS is a natural 4A school, with about 350 more students and draws from a bigger geographic region), this is a pretty even rivalry. Last year was a delightful game with the eventual 3A state champs in control most of the night until CHS made a few huge defensive plays and had two 60+ yard touchdowns in the second half to get the win.

This year…well, not nearly as exciting. CHS led 25–0 midway through the second quarter and seemed well on their way to another crushing win. They got sloppy, though, committing a ton of drive-killing penalties and allowed BCHS to get comfortable on offense. It was never close, but the final, 39–20, was CHS’ closest game of the year.

Now they move on to the annual Cincinnati part of their schedule, with home games the next three weeks against schools from Ohio.

I listened to the CHS game on the radio, as has become my Friday tradition. After it ended, I flipped over to the student broadcast of The Other CHS’ game, which was headed to overtime. These student announcers weren’t nearly as good as some of the ones I’ve heard in the past. I did enjoy the line by one of the announcers that even though he had to take the ACT Saturday morning, he was fine with the game lasting deep into the night. The Other CHS won by one in double OT.


College

This weekend of college football felt very strange. Two major conferences not playing. Marquee non-conference games cancelled and replaced by games that only the most devoted fan would be interested in. And then the Big 12 laying a big, fat egg against the Sun Belt.

I don’t care about the Iowa State and Kansas State losses. And, to be honest, I don’t care that much about Kansas losing to Coastal Carolina. I was not sure what Vegas was thinking, making the Jayhawks, who literally may not have a functioning quarterback, a touchdown favorite over a team that beat them last year. A loss was not that much of a surprise. KU getting absolutely housed in the first half? Now that was a surprise. Really glad I didn’t drink a beer until kickoff so I could stay awake for that garbage. As it was I only made it to halftime before bailing. 10:00 pm eastern time starts are bad.

Listen, KU sucks. They will not win a game this year. That’s nothing new. But anyone who thought that this year would bring some dramatic improvement wasn’t looking at the roster. Again, the team does not have a quarterback who is ready to take a D1 snap. The offensive line will yet again be the worst in the Big 12, making things even tougher on the quarterback.

The thing for KU is to get through this year. Because next year is when Les Miles’ careful and disciplined recruiting should begin to bear fruit. I don’t expect Miles to keep the majority of the kids he has commitments from in the current recruiting class, but bringing in a third-straight class that is almost all high schoolers will at least get the program back on firm footing for the first time since Charlie Weis drove off nearly 30 players in his first year. That always had to be the first step to end the cycle of suck. Then you start hoping some of these kids can play.


NFL

Welcome to Indy, Philip Rivers! All summer we heard how “playing behind one of the strongest offensive lines in the NFL will allow Rivers to cut down on his interceptions.” So naturally he throws two really bad picks, one early in the game when the Colts could have put the Jaguars away, the other late in the game that killed any chance of the Colts coming back. Oh, and the defense kind of sucked and the offensive line sure looked mediocre in the running game. Plus Marlon Mack may be out for the year. You shouldn’t overreact to one game, but losing to the worst team in the NFL was not a great start for the Rivers era. Oh, turns out he may be cursed, too, which could be a problem.

I casually watched several other games. Which is my favorite way to watch the NFL. I cooked. I read. I surfed the web and the socials. I took a break to coach a basketball practice. I don’t have to be totally invested in an NFL game. It can just be on, the background noise to fall afternoons and evenings. For that reason alone, it was good for the NFL to be back.

My only complaint of the first day of NFL games – well, other than the Colts game – was the crowd noise that Fox added to their games. I’m fine with this, in theory. But it has to be done correctly. Most of the time they had it cranked up at least 20% too loudly. It should not interfere with the broadcasters’ audio. In the Chicago-Detroit game, it was often hard to hear the announcers over the fake crowd noise. Which makes no sense. And the increases/decreases in crowd noise were always super abrupt. Like there was a kid with his hand on the volume knob, and he frantically spun it up or down depending on the play, rather that easing it to a new level.

A friend pointed out the fake noise on the NBC broadcast should have reflected that had a crowd been in the new LA stadium, it would have been at least half Cowboys fans. I liked that thought.

Finally, I realized over the weekend that the NFL playoff format is different than the predictions I offered, with only the top seed getting a bye. I regret the error but will not update the picks to reflect the proper order. They were half-assed to begin with.

Friday Playlist

“Child’s Romance” – Nap Eyes
This song sounds soooooo Australian. Yet this band is from Nova Scotia. Even if they aren’t from my favorite musical continent, I still really dig this song. All kinds of good bits in it.

“Mustang” – Strange
Not sure there’s anyone in music right now like Bartees Strange. He combines a variety of disparate influences into a unique sound. He’s also a pretty interesting cat. The critics love him, so I hope his upcoming debut EP gets as much attention as it deserves.

“Singing” – Sun June
What an absolutely gorgeous song. This sounds like the end of summer to me.

“The Rising” – Bruce Spingsteen
Bruce has a new song out this week but this one seemed more appropriate for today. Nineteen years pass quickly.

“My City of Ruins” – Eddie Vedder covering Bruce Springsteen
If we’re playing songs off The Rising, might as well share this one too. Come on, rise up.

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