With Sadness

I’m sorry to report that Josh the lizard died this weekend.

You may recall Alex’s quest to purchase a lizard in posts from last year — some readers even threw Alex some paying work that helped contribute to the purchase.

Shani noticed he wasn’t moving Friday night. Alex reached in, picked him up, and the lizard was floppy and clearly dead. I wrapped him in a bag. Alex proceeded to absolutely sob uncontrollably for 30 minutes. The boy doesn’t mess around with his sadness.

The next day we buried Josh in the backyard — here is the gravestone Alex made.

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It is worth noting that he wrote “I love you” a second time at the bottom of the stone where it would be underground and “Josh could read it.” After the burial, Jack and Alex went out a little later and I saw that both of them were kneeling by the grave.

I don’t think there will be another lizard in Alex’s life, but who knows. The big heartbreaker quote for me was when he told me the next day: “Lizards are supposed to live 8-10 years, so I expected to have Josh until I was 16.”

Oh — at Alex’s insistence, we also went to church on Sunday. Although we screwed up the times and missed the service. So the three of us spent 10 minutes praying, and then spent the another 10 minutes having an incredible conversation about religion.

Godspeed, Josh.


A Quick Deke to Comerica Park

We begin our Tiger Tale with this:

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I had a free night and asked the hotel if they had a map. How classy, right?

Then we go to this:

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I got it for $30 off a scalper. Great seats – field level, 20 rows back off 1st base. I was feeling good, and then…

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That moment when you first see the stadium. That’s a big deal to me. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring. There it was – with giant statues of tigers and huge bats. The big lights and sheer scope of it. My bouncy step got that much bouncier.

I went through, got to my seat and check this out…

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That’s Miguel Cabrerra not 50 feet away from me. Dynamite, right? OK…look closer. The field seats at Comerica are on a low pitch, which means it’s really hard to see. People’s heads in front of you block your view. A true design flaw if you ask me. But then again, people’s heads in my way was secondary to…

OK, time out. An important lesson for non-baseball fans. This is a cardinal rule at a ballpark.

Do not get up from your seat in the middle of an at-bat. Same goes for returning to your seat. Wait for the at-bat to finish and THEN you can get up/sit down.

Why? Because people (like ME!) are trying to watch the damn game! And for some baffling reason, Tiger’s fans had no idea this rule existed. I was stunned. And getting irrationally furious.

Oh, and the other thing that was happening – EVERYONE was taking selfies. I’ve never seen so many selfies in my life. It was like a selfie flashmob. In fact, the mother in front of me took a selfie of herself and her little girl. Then the little girl started demanding and whining that her mother delete the selfie. And when mom refused, the little girl started fake crying.

I felt like I was losing my mind. After a few innings, I sort of staggered away feeling frazzled. I bought a hot dog and took the escalator up to a higher deck.

Now…let’s look at this photo and tell me what you see?

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It’s the shot from my new seat. In fact, as I entered the section, I found 3 guys standing at the back waiting for the at-bat to end before returning to my seat. But back to the photo, because it contains 4 things I loved seeing.

  • The kid at the bottom left is wearing a baseball glove. It’s hard to see. Just at the bottom of the frame. He was hoping to catch a pop up and carefully watching the game for his chance
  • In the center, a kid is on his dad’s lap and they are keeping score. The dad is teaching his son how to log a game.
  • Top of the frame is the view of downtown Detroit – a view I couldn’t see at all from section 118.
  • Far right? Oh yeah – that is a real deal baseball mutant. She and her mate were chattering away about the game and having a great time. Pros. She was eating soft tacos and snuffling them down like an anteater. I got her in mid-snort.

What was also nice about this section was the view of the field. I could see what was going on. No heads in my way.

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So now…I could give excuses. I had an hour drive back to my hotel and I had to get up at 6 and run an all day workshop. High profile for a big client. And the game was out of reach for the Tigers (down 12-3) and every pitcher just kept walking batters and then they’d switch to another pitcher who would warm up and then walk the next guy.

And then…and then…oh God. OK.

I left. I left before the end of the game. I did. I did that. Here’s a shot of the sunset over the city I shot on my way out.

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So…not sure if it’s even valid considering what I just admitted, but my review of Comerica Park is:

  • GORGEOUS stadium. Grand and majestic. It feels like you’re entering the Roman Coliseum about to watch something enormous take place.
  • Fans suck in the spendy seats. Fans are solid in higher decks. Plus the seats are better.
  • Food is nothing special.

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The Meteoric and Painful Rise of Jack Nuckols, Pitcher

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This weekend concluded the spring baseball season for Jack, and it was a rough one at the plate for our hero. There was a regression in his approach where at-bats were filled with tentative swings, attempts to draw walks, and head shakes as he shuffled back to the dugout following a called strike three.

Game after game slid by without a hit. Midway through the season, after another game where he went 0-for-3, Jack rode beside me in the car in a fragile silence. I tried the “get ’em next time” peppy-talk and got nothing. After a few more minutes, I spoke:

“What’s the matter, bub? You look real sad.”

That was all it took. It was like I had nudged a tall tower of blocks. He spoke back, his voice high-pitched with misery.

“I’m just sitting here realizing how bad I am at baseball.”

He fell into inconsolable tears, weeping into his hand.

“Why does the person who loves it the most have to be the one who is the worst at it?”

At this point I was crying too (I do that). I told him he was young and had years ahead of him. I told him that baseball was the hardest sport in the world. I told him he was brave. I tried all the regular parent bullshit you say, but he just kept right on bawlin’. It sucked.

The season kept on and Jack kept doing nothing at the plate. He looked lost up there. But then, with just a few weeks left in the season, Shani and I got an email from Jack’s coach.

Wanted to let you know that I’m pitching Jack for an inning tonight. Please don’t tell him beforehand.

So as Shani and I arrived at the field, Jack was off to the side warming up. He came back to the dugout and mouthed to us: “I’m pitching.” And boy oh boy was there a lot of emotion he was trying to cover up behind a cool face.

Next inning, out he went.

So Jack is a lefty and he’s small. He went out there and shot these slow, lefty loopers right in for gentle strikes. The inning went:

  • Groundout to the pitcher
  • Groundout to first base
  • Groundout to the pitcher

1-2-3 inning. Wowzers! I’d been expecting a walkfest mess, but it went great.

The next game, Jack warmed up again, was sent out, and put down another 1-2-3 inning. As Jack came back to the dugout, the coach came over to him:

“Jack, think you can handle another inning?”

OK…so a second inning. That is significant. One inning is giving a kid a chance to pitch. Two innings means a move into the stable of regulars who pitch for the team. Plus, this was the top of the order for a good team.

  • First batter: groundout to the pitcher
  • Second batter: line drive double
  • Third batter…

The third batter was a boy named Thomas who is one of the best hitters in the league. I frantically texted Shani to tell her who Jack was facing.

“Crapass” was her response.

But Jack pumped in a few of those loopy slowpokers and…

  • Groundout to the pitcher

Jack walked the next guy (men on 1st and 3rd), and then struck out the next batter.

OK, so to say I had a different kid on my hands from that day forward is a major understatement. “Self esteem” is an overused term, I think, but in this case it was like you could see Jack’s newly-glowing self-esteen floating over him like he was pulling around a balloon.

He took to lecturing Alex on how to sequence pitches. He used his prize money from the essay contest to buy a pitch-back and spent hours in the backyard announcing games with himself. Shani asked him if he was happy after getting out of the last inning:

“Yeah, I was happy, but when you walk off the mound you have to look like it was no big deal. That’s how you do it, Mom.”

He kept pitching in every game following and continued to get hitters (good hitters) out.

“I have a 0.00 ERA still,” he informed me.

The team was the underdog heading into a double-elimination playoffs. Jack led the game on the mound and looked shaky. It was raining and the ball slipped from his hand several times. He hit a batter (not hard) and walked another. Then a double ended his perfect ERA. They ended up losing that game.

Then the next game, with the season on the line, Jack took the mound in the 2nd inning and the loopy leftshot was consistently off the plate.

  • Hit batter
  • Walk
  • Walk
  • Walk

As he threw you could see him withering like a weed. After every pitch he would look imploring at the coach, begging with his eyes to be pulled.

When Jack finally came off the mound, he was anything but stone-faced. The team lost and was eliminated by the playoffs.

So a tough season? The team never really got into a groove and Jack didn’t either. But as I look back, I’m filled with gratitude and good feelings.

I love Jack’s coach. He has made it clear that he does not draft based on baseball skill – he drafts to get the nicest kids he can. And sure, lots of coaches say they do that, but this coach really does.

I love the coach’s wife. She is a mainstay in the stands; she beams and smiles through the entire game. She notices every kid’s success and revels in it.

I love sitting with rational parents. Drafting kids based on niceness means the parents are terrific. I’m not much for chit-chat, but I’ve really enjoyed sitting among them.

And above all, I love being a dad. Shani is in the stands next to me. Alex is running the snack bar or begging for me to buy him candy. The pace of a baseball game makes me sit back and realize that this is it. This is fatherhood. These are the moments.

So thanks to everyone for a great season. And beware, Jack has not let up on that pitch back. He will be taking the mound this fall.


Little League Infographics

In honor of the end of a fantastic little league season, my friend Kari White and I created some graphics that help define the experience.

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Mike Nuckols Yummy Wing Sauce (Recipe 3 of 3)

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

When I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant called Lobster King for about 2 years. Hal worked there too.

The place had pretty much no customers, so Hal and I spent a ton of time:

  • Having shopping cart races in the rear parking lot
  • Putting soaked dishrags in the walk-in freezer and sculpting them into frozen armor and swords (and then doing battle in the parking lot)
  • Making chicken wings

Some important points before you start.

  • You need a real-deal deep fryer. Like the ones they have at a restaurant. Doing these in the oven or in a frying pan isn’t near so good.
  • Chicken wings should NOT BE BREADED. That’s bullshit. Chicken wings should be naked and frozen.
  • Don’t screw around with BBQ wings, honey-hot, garlic-style, etc. All of that is also bullshit. We’re making buffalo wings.
  • Wings are dipped in blue cheese dressing. Not ranch. That, once again, is bullshit.
  • Serving wings with celery on the side is a good idea.

OK, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Wings (duh)
  • Durkee’s hot sauce (normal, no funky variations)
  • Butter
  • Garlic salt
  • Cayenne pepper

  • Chili powder
  • Blue cheese dressing

Sauce

  • Melt butter and pour it in a plastic bucket (should have a lid)
  • Put in the Durkee’s, garlic salt, cayenne pepper.

NOTE: I’m not telling you the amounts. I don’t know exact measurement. Here’s how you’ll know.

  • Cayenne pepper is a matter of how hot you want them. My advice is go easy. Anyone can make wings that incinerate your tongue. You want wings you can taste. So go easy.
  • You probably want a lot of garlic salt, but don’t go nuts.
  • The real key is the right mix of butter and Durkee’s – here’s how you tell:
    • Mix the ingredients up, close the bucket lid, swirls it all all around, open the lid and smell…smell is the key. When you’ve got it right you’ll get brushed back by the fumes, but not from spice. It smells good, but it also makes you jerk away. That’s how you know.

Wings

  • Deep fry your wings. There should be an explosion of bubbles when you put down the frozen wings. Make sure they’re nice and crispy, but not burned.
  • Take the fried wings, put them in the bucket of sauce, put on the lid, shake the hell out of them.
  • When you open it up, give it another whiff – you’ll get that telltale shot in the sinuses.

Dipping sauce

  • Mix chili powder into the blue cheese. This is your dipping sauce for the wings.

Then eat your face off.

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Perfect Home Fries (Recipe 2 of 3)

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

I have a bucket list that I created when I was 22. I’ve maintained it and I’ve crossed off a bunch of items on there. One of those items I had accomplished is “Make the Perfect Home Fries.”

Here is the recipe. (Note – it takes a long time.)

Ingredients:

  • 6 potatoes (doesn’t matter what kind)
  • 2 vidalia onions (has to be Vidalia)
  • 1 jalepeno pepper
  • Crapload of garlic
  • Butter (lots)
  • Seasoned-salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Garlic salt

Step 1: Dice the onions, pepper, garlic and separate them into 3 even piles.

Step 2: Cut the potatoes into “sticks and stones” – this is honestly the key to the whole thing. This is the secret. Half the potatoes should be cut into thin strips about an inch long and the width of a wooden match. (sticks). Half the potatoes should be cut into cubes that are about a square centimeter (stones). Note: this process takes forever.

Step 3: Get a big fry pan and put in a solid wunk of butter. When it gets hot, put in 1 pile of your onion/pepper/garlic, douse it with the spices, and fry it up good.

Step 4: Put in another wunk of butter and throw in your potatoes. Now you’re in for the long haul. You’re gonna stand there for a solid 45 minutes stirring and turning the potatoes. Keep in medium-high heat. Keep chucking in butter and spices. It’s a process.

Step 5: After about 30 minutes, throw in pile #2 of your onion/pepper/garlic mix. Keep frying and cooking.

Step 6: When they’re ready the potatoes will be a solid mix of crispy and mushy. Now throw in the last pile of onion/pepper/garlic. Cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring the whole time.

Serve those mothers up. They’re awesome with any breakfast food – eggs, bacon, pancakes – it doesn’t matter what you serve ’em with. They’re perfect.

(Note — this is not an actual photo of my home fries. This an image off the web and the home fries are imperfect.)

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Spiedies (Recipe 1 of 3)

Spiedie Recipe

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Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

You will need this recipe. You will make it when friends come over and they will request that you make it again. It is easy and it is a piece of your heritage.

Spiedies were invented in Binghamton, where I am from. They are the local specialty of the region.

Occasionally someone will ask what is the difference between spiedies and shish-ka-bobs. The answer is that you don’t even acknowledge the question. Spiedies are spiedies. Just ignore those people, or if you have to, punch them in the face.

Here is the recipe.

Mix up:

1/2 Cup Oil (I use Olive but any will work)

6 Tablespoons Vineager  (I use Balsamic and Cider Mixed)

2 Cloves Garlic Minced

2 Tablespoons Parsley

2-3 Mint Leaves

1 tsp basil

1 tablespoon salt

Chop up chicken (or pork or venison) into chunks, put them in the marinade, and let them sit overnight.

Skewer them about 6-8 per skewer and cook them on the grill.

Serve with Italian bread. The correct way to eat is to hold a piece of bread in your palm and use it like a glove to pull off the meat. Eat it like a sandwich (like the guy in the photo with the gross fingernails is doing).

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Coming tomorrow…Recipe #2: The Perfect Homefries.


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