Saturday, June 26, 2010

Putting My Princesses To Work

Yet another summertime Saturday morning.

My faithful black lab Suzy and I are waking up on the deck by the pool – with a coffee – looking around at all the outside chores to be done yet again this weekend.

Well, I am anyway. Suzy is quite content to lay on the deck licking parts of her body that only dogs can lick.

But aside from the common destinations those chores take me today, we really have nothing planned.

How wonderful.

The frustrations of a week's work can be forgotten for these two days. The hectic pace can be replaced by the frustrations of domestic obligations.

But it's summer. The very thick of summer, although it's only a week old.

And I – being a Canadian who was raised in the deep south of the United States – well I am not a winter person.

So I want to cherish every second of hot days with the cool breezes that can only be found in the shade on the deck under the patio set umbrella.

But first I must earn my keep. My lovely wife Darlene does not like to see me lounge around all day – as she is of the opinion that lounging around is my professional occupation that I perform Mondays through Fridays.

Perhaps she is right.

My two little girls – used to waking up to play baseball games on Saturday mornings are already bored. Still in their pajamas they come outside to tell me they have nothing to do.

Perhaps I can put them to work?

What kinds of house chores can seven and eight year olds do?

They aren't big enough to cut the grass just yet. Cutting the grass is a work out that not even the finest Bow-Flex excercise machine can match – pulling the rip-cord some twenty times with all your might just to get the little engine to turn over – only to have it chug a couple of times and die – and to pull it another twenty times until it turns over again – and once successfully started – must be pushed around the yard in a complicated pattern to avoid the gardens, bushes, swing sets and climbers, pool and deck that comprise out yards.

So they can't cut the grass … yet.

And they damn sure can't use the weed whipper either. Limbs would be flying everywhere.

But oh I dream of the day when ….

They could water the gardens though.

But on second thought I picture the hose being turned on everything but the gardens – and two soaking wet little girls walking into the house leaving puddles behind them as they exclaim to their lovely Mother "Ashley sprayed me in the eyeball and now I'm blind".

The yelling and the screaming would of course bring the police. And we don't need to have that happen. Police cars in the front yard doesn't look good to the neighbors.

That also pretty much excludes them from washing the cars.

And I sure won't let them inspect under the hood of the Jeep to see why that mysterious engine light came on last week.

Perhaps they could paint their swingset and climber in the corner of the yard. You know the kind – made out of four-by-fours with a little house and a slide? We need to paint that to be the same color as the deck.

What am I thinking? They would be covered in more paint that the deck would be.

Perhaps there are chores they could do inside the house?

There is a picture down stairs that needs to be hung. A beautifully framed golf green flag from no place other than Augusta National Golf course – home of the Masters. My lovely wife Darlene "won" it in a silent auction.

Well, she says she won it – but what she really did was win the right to pay an exorbitant amount of Money for it – my birthday present. Still sitting in a corner in the sewing room waiting to by hung on the wall by the pool table.

I'm not complaining. But I can't let the girls do that ether.

The laundry is out of the question as well – all my shirts for work would be pink – and shrunk to fit the Ken dolls in their big Barbie doll house they never play with.

Vacuuming is out as well – as they would likely suck the cats up into the vacuum and then get dirt inside the canister all over the place trying to get the crippled little felines out.

That's no good either.

Their rooms are a mess. They could do that – all though they never do. Their closets become piles of everything that was on the floor. Playing cards and CDs and dolls and little game chips for their Nintendo DSi games – all piled up with dirty clothes that we don't find until they have long grown out of them.

But it's worth a shot.

My goodness, my two little princess girls are really quite useless.

Although they are fun to dress up and take places with me. They are nice decorations to give the outside world the impression that I am a wonderful father.

And you cannot question my wonderfulness as a Daddy either … I have the hand drawn certificates and cards left over from last Sunday's Fathers Day celebration to prove it – strewn around my desk at work with sentiments like "World's Greatest Dad" and drawings of me and them standing under a rainbow holding the strings of heart shaped balloons.

So I am well certified to be the Greatest Dad in the world.

If I could just put them to work somehow?

Just now Alannah, my oldest came out to again inform me of her state of boredom. She picked up a hammer used to pound in a nail to hang a planter on the deck. And she starts to simply pound on the wood.

"STOP THAT!", I shout. In a much gentler voice I suggest she and her sister put on their swimsuits and play in the pool.

We have to make use of this pool, don't you know.

As they splash and play in the water, my Lovely wife Darlene comes out to see what I am doing. I am typing madly now on the keyboard of the laptop.

"I can't do that now", I answer. "I have to watch the girls while they're in the pool!"

And suddenly the usefulness of my two little princesses becomes quite clear to me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Championship Season

Summer officially arrived in the opening minutes of this fine Monday morning.

So I am taking the day off work in remembrance.

Although I must say it has felt like summer here where I live for the last month or so.

The barbecue has been going full blast since the last week of May.

The pool has been opened and in full use since the last week of May.

The baseball has been fast and furious now for several months.

And yesterday was the last day of Turtle Club little league t-ball baseball.

I guess they never heard the expression "boys of summer".

And yesterday – my little girls of summer – along with their other ten team mates – won their league championship.

The "Speedy Pinkies" win the 2010 Turtle Club League Championship for Senior Girls T-Ball
bottom (left to right) Kayla, Avery, Alannah, and Olivia
top (left to right)  Ashley-Rae, Breanna, Jordan, Kaitlin and Emily.

Both my daughters – Alannah and Ashley-Rae – played for the pink team – sponsored by a local Doctor Mary Buchanan – her name taking up two lines on the back of their shirts above the number. The classic Turtle Club logo across the front in black.

And the Brill Girls contributed their share of offense and defense in route to this championship. Of course I am a proud papa – so take my praise of their play with a grain of salt if you wish to.

I wouldn't blame you.

Who knew T-ball could be so exciting?

I guess you had to be there.

But there is a thrill to watching a child stand at the plate – bat in hand – lining it up with the ball – the bat a bit to heavy – the ball a bit to high – and the first couple of attempts resulting in a teeth tingling clank as the metal tee is knocked out from under the ball by the aluminum bat – only on the third try to see the youngster connect with the ball and send a line drive through the gap that results in the runner on second coming home to score the go-ahead run.

And there is a thrill to watching young children just learning how to field a ground ball cleanly and throw it on an arch to first – then to see the young first baseman extend their glove in a self defense motion – head leaned back out of the way with eyes half shut in anticipation of the ensuing pain they are expecting – only to see the surprise and victory on their faces when they realize the ball trapped itself neatly inside their little glove – with secondary care as to whether the little batter beat the throw to first base or not – the play was successfully completed!

It's surprisingly exciting – and even more so rewarding when it's your own child now catching and throwing with proficiency – after spending hours in the back yard tossing pop flies and ground balls to them – helping them learn the right way to hold their glove when a ball is above their shoulders or below – and insisting their throws be aimed at your chest.

The hardest part of the skill of catching a baseball to teach a young child – younger than the age of ten – is to not catch every ball with the glove pointing at the ground – how the glove is really an extension of their hand – and is something you wear – not that you hold onto in hopes that a ball will fall into it – you have to reach out to the ball flying in the air and snag it in your webbing – instead of hoping it will merely hit the mitt's webbing and lodge itself there for you.

Then there are the rules of the game – not all of which are learned in t-ball.

Rules like you have to tag the runner when there is no force at the base you are playing – and what scenarios constitutes a force out. Try explaining to a little catcher that they have to tag the runner at home because while there are runners at second and third – first base sits empty because the last play got the runner at first.

Rules like the batter is automatically out if you catch their batted ball in the air – before it touches the ground – and if the runners on base go to the next base, you can throw to the base they just ran from and force them out because the runner never tagged up.

In yesterday's game such a play did occur – the ball hit on a line at the pitcher – who in self defense held up their glove in protection – only to find it lodged in the gloves webbing – and the stands full of over-anxious parents screaming "throw it to first!" – which she did – and the first baseman indeed caught her throw – doubling up the little runner who did not understand she could not run.

In the dugout my youngest daughter said to the coach "my daddy says that's called a dubba play", to which the motherly coach smiled and said "your daddy's right, Ashley-Rae".

That made my day.

My Father's Day.

The little team of twelve little girls ages seven and eight – sporting pink jerseys and black shorts – sang chants from the dugout like "fans fans in the stands, when you gonna clap your hands?" and other sing song works of poetry worthy of a boot camp marching cadence caller.

Every parent in the stands rooting for every little girl on the field. But rooting just a little louder for their own little girl – and hollering instructions from behind the backstop as each comes to the plate.

"back up a bit"

"watch the ball"

"swing hard"

"straight through"

All while the coach at first or third base is pantomiming a swing – pretending to hold an imaginary bat – showing the movement they want the youngster to mimic at the plate.

Clink – as the tee falls to the ground and the ball falling as well.

Swoosh – as the bat swings over the ball – over compensating for the previously missed attempt – the young batters body uncoiling to the point near falling down.

Crack – as the bat meets the ball

Hooray! - as the fans explode in the celebration of the youngster's success

"Throw it to second!" – as the other team's fans instruct the little fielder where to throw the ball

And the resulting mix of cheers and groans as the play is either successfully completed with the runner out or the play fumbled and the runner found to be safe.

It's really quite magical.

But their favorite part is after the game – when they gather in a corner of the outfield – each team in their own corner – and the coolers containing the after game snacks come out – juice boxes or freezy pops and granola bars passed out – and they sit in the corner and share the experience of the game – and how fun it was – and how good they played – like a bunch of adults playing beer league softball sitting around a pitcher of draft beer in a pub after the Tuesday night league game.

But yesterday's game also included trophies – each little team lined up along the first and third baselines – names announced over the loudspeaker – and the awards distributed proudly to each little girl who ran up to take theirs – holding them up for the world to see – for the world to acknowledge them.

Acknowledge them as champions.

And then they had freezy pops.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Lessons Baseball Teaches Us

Last night I wished my Dad was still around.

I needed some advice.    

I needed the kind of conversation I could only ever have with Dad.

Last night the roster for the Turtle Club all star team for the senior girls t-ball league was picked.

The Good Coach called our house at a quarter after seven. But we didn't hear the phone ring.

We were outside – listening to the Tigers game on the radio.

We were outside – working on the back yard gardens – and watching the girls swim.

I went in to get a drink and noticed the answering machine flashing two missed calls.

The one call was from my Mom in Pensacola calling to see how my lovely wife Darlene made out with an out-patient surgery earlier this week - and to see how the girls made out with All Star tryouts. She is planning a visit in July and wanted to know if travel team baseball trips would be on her itinerary.

The second call was from the Good Coach. He left his number asking we call him back.

I called the Good Coach back – and left a message for him to call me back. He was likely busy calling every one of the sixty or so girls that tried out.

These tryouts took pretty much three weeks to complete. There was a Friday night session, and then a three hour Saturday session in the hot sun in the afternoon after the morning games were played.

They wanted to see throwing and hitting and fielding, They wanted to see how the girls handled situations. They wanted to get an all around feel for each girl.

Each girl was assigned a number, a sticker they wore on their chest.

An email followed asking that before the selection can be made, that we please confirm our kids will be able to play in all three of the tournaments – one of them a four day holiday weekend out of town.

Our great friends from Ireland – Ray and Shell are coming back for a visit this summer – as well. These tournaments would land right in the middle of their visit. I talked it over with my lovely wife, and we agreed that this would be a wonderful thing for our girls should they make it.

And Alannah had the very best shot. She was playing good smart baseball. Fielding well and hitting to gaps. A real joy to watch this year.

It would do wonders for her self confidence.

I replied to the email committing to the tournament dates.

Another email was received stating that a third tryout was necessary.

The third tryout was held. They split the girls into two groups. And again the clip boards were used to track the girls by the numbers on stickers pasted to their t-shirts.

And again we were told to wait for a call.

During this period – the league teams kept playing their regular season games. Six games in total – three against the Good Coaches team.

And Alannah and her team mates played great.

As well, Ashley-Rae – on her own accord – decided to start switch hitting – hitting from the left or right side of the plate to hit the gap in the fielders – and she was hitting line drives.

After not getting a reply back from my message – around nine o'clock – I called the Good Coach back again – and this time I reached him.

"I'm afraid I don't have good news for your girls, Fred", said the Good Coach.

My heart sank.

"Even Alannah?", I asked.

"It was such a close call", said the Good Coach. "I see lots of improvement", he continued. "She just doesn't know the game well enough", he stated simply.

"You have to work with her more", he finished.

I swallowed hard.

"Can I speak with each of the girls?"

"Well, sure, I did have a speech for them prepared for any circumstance, but sure."

I handed the phone to Ashley-Rae, and watched her face drop to a frown, and she handed the phone to Alannah.

"Really?, but I thought for sure … ok … bye", her voice breaking to a sob midway through as she hung up.

And Alannah broke down, and she cried.

And there was consoling, and hugging, and a whole bunch of sadness.

The phone rang back only moments later. It was the Good Coach.

"Alannah sounded really sad, I wanted to make sure …"

"Oh, she is sad, but this is all part of life's learning. I do appreciate you being a stand up guy though".

That was last night.

This is the next morning.

And the girls have a ball game at eleven.

What the moral of this story? There are probably several.

I know that Alannah was good enough to make that team. I know this because I watched every one of those other girls. Many much better. Many much … not better. Alannah was in the top fifteen.

But like I keep telling the girls, and telling my wife, and telling myself.

Life just ain't fair. And baseball is as foul as it is fair.

The judgement comes from how good a sport you are about it.

In the end – that's the best testament – legacy – we can leave behind.

Just ask Armando Galarraga when the umpire blew the call that cost him his perfect game.

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