Social Reckoning

Alex was being an a-hole. And he’s usually my easy kid. But he was relentlessly antagonizing Jack, he was shrieking at me when I told him it was time to brush his teeth, and he was crying about nothing.

Generally, when your kid is freaking out for no apparent reason and acting like a complete nightmare, it’s time to stop and ask…

“Alex, is something bothering you? Did something happen today at school?”

His answer was NO! and he went on acting insane. But half an hour after I got him to bed he called me:

“Dad!”

It was one of those times you can hear it in their voice. I had two friends over, but they’re dads too and they recognized the tone.

“What’s up, Alex?” I asked as I went into his room.

“Remember when you asked me if something happened today? Well…something did happen.”

“What happened?”

“At recess, Rachel won’t play with me. She only wants to play with Lisa and other girls and not me.” [I'm changing the names here]

“So you get left out?”

“I have to play by myself.”

“What about boys?” I asked. But I knew the answer already. See, nearly all of Alex’s friends are girls. I chalk it up to maturity on his part. Plus he doesn’t much like team sports – which makes the boys’ kickball-pit-of 3rd-grade-horrendous-sportsmanship the last place he wants to be. So what’s happening to poor Alex is that they boys and the girls are splitting up. They’re at the age where they’re becoming two hostile nations – which leaves my sweet Alex cast out and alone on the monkey bars for 25 minutes a day. And he doesn’t get it.

“Why?” he asked. “Why can’t boys and girls play together?”

And here I had a moment of true parent brilliance. I had no idea – but I knew someone who might be able to help.

“Jack!” I called. “Can you come into Alex’s?”

Jack walked into the dark bedroom. As I explained the situation to Jack, he climbed up onto the foot of Alex’s bed. All three of us on there.

“I don’t really know why,” Jack said. “But I can say that the popular boys are the ones who first start not liking girls – and then later they’re the first ones to start liking girls again.”

We spent a good 20 minutes in there talking, and I will tell you what: Jack was kind and thoughtful. He really helped. We talked about which boys Alex might try to be better friends with. And what I liked was that Jack didn’t ask which boys were popular and advise Alex to target them. Jack asked which boys were nice. Those were the boys Jack told Alex to make friends with.

Mostly, Alex just needed to talk it out. He needed some sympathy and some love. He wasn’t looking for us to solve it, I don’t think.

Your kids are going to go out and take their lumps socially. They’ll be picked on and made fun of, I suspect. And I don’t think it’s something you can prevent. Kids are going to be mean to Alex and hurt his feelings – and I’m not that sure how to help him through that.

I got this one right. But still I picture my little guy out there alone at the monkey bars during recess. I picture him standing and watching the girls run and laugh. I picture him wandering over to the boys’ kickball game and standing off to the side. I think of his neon yellow sneakers and his painted fingernails. I picture his face with his brown eyes. A little pit opens up in my stomach.

It’s hard to watch him go through this. Hmm…maybe Jack can give me some advice.


How to Win at Little League: Duds, not Studs

When it comes to coaching a little league team, if you are trying to field a winning team, most coaches go about this completely wrong.

The wrong approach:

Coaches tend to focus on their stud kids. Discuss the draft with a coach and they will talk about the first 4 rounds. “I got Johnny round 1, Jimmy round 2, and Tommy round 3 – all 3 of those kids are awesome hitters!”

And that tends to remain the focus of their approach and their team. Those kids are the focus of their offense and the better the coach can make those kids, the better off the team will be.

Except that’s entirely wrong.

The right approach:

Ready for this? The key to winning is to focus on your lousy kids. Focus on your duds. Games do not come down to whether your stud kids perform. Games are decided on which team has the most “automatic outs”. And the lousy kids are the key to that.

In other words – you should spend the majority of your time working with your duds.

Let me provide an example…

My son was on a team 3 years ago that went undefeated. They were awesome and had 5 hitters who absolutely drilled the ball. We walked through the playoffs. The finals were in late June and we were the heavy favorite. We had crushed the opposing team twice already that season.

But here’s where it went wrong. Come gameday, the opposing team had only 8 kids show up. And the kids who were missing were all their worst players. In other words – they had no automatic outs. No duds.

That meant that their lineup kept going around and around through 8 good players – and they wracked up a TON of runs each inning.

For us, our studs played great. But then our dud kids came up and those innings fizzled.

Our studs played way better than their studs. But because they had no duds, they beat us.

Look at it this way…

You have 6 innings of Little League play. Most coaches are looking to score runs. That’s why they focus on their stud kids.

The right approach? Don’t worry about runs. Worry about outs. You have 6 innings – which means you have 18 outs. That is what to focus on. The team that plates the most kids before hitting that 18-out mark is the team that will win. Forget runs – focus on avoiding outs. Don’t try to be the team that scores the most runs. Try to be the team that avoids those 18 outs the longest and you will win every time.

In other words, focus on your duds. Turn a doubles hitter into a home run hitter? Who cares? It has no impact on how quickly you reach 18 outs.

Turn an automatic out into a singles hitter – now you’re talking.

A calculation to back the theory up…

Team A has 5 studs and 5 duds. And the coach spends his time working with the studs.

  • The 5 studs become SO awesome that they hit a home run every single at bat.
  • The 5 duds get out every time.

In 6 innings, Team A will score an astonishing 20 runs. Great job, coach!

Team B has 5 studs and 5 duds. And this coach spends his time focused on the duds.

  • The 5 studs underperform and only get a single every time they come to bat.
  • The 5 duds get out only half the time and the other half of their at-bats they get a single.

In 6 innings, Team B will score 30 runs. Team B will DESTROY Team A.

Here’s what else happens…

I can already hear the snarky comments about Little League not being about winning – so think about this side benefit when you focus on your lousy kids. Because if you believe all the standard talking points about wanting it to be fun and be about teaching…here’s what happens when you focus on your duds.

  • Those kids will never forget you.
  • You will be that kid’s favorite coach that he ever had
  • That kid’s parents will glow about you at parties and over coffee – which is not a bad thing if you live in that community

Listen, stud kids got a TON of attention. They’ll be fine. They already get all the glory and adoration of playing well.

But imagine if your work lets that dud kid be the hero. If that dud kid gets that big hit that wins the game? You will make a sports memory that that kid will never forget.

I will end on a story…

A friend of mine coaches Little League and he is someone I think is a really good coach. He had a MAJOR dud on his team, but the coach worked with that kid.

In a tight game, the kid got a hit. Over the course of the inning the kid came around so he was on third and had the potential to be the winning run. The coach went and asked him…

“If I give the sign, I need you to get home as fast as you can. Do you know the sign?”

In a mix of terror and elation, the kid replied:

“I’ve never been on base before.”

Tell me that coach hasn’t already won the entire Little League World Championships? Amazing.


Game of the Year

This weekend was the finals for the “Dog Eat Dog” tournament in Jack’s Fall Ball League. Jack’s crew was the severe underdog – and it showed. The teams started plugging away Sunday night and it was quickly becoming a slaughter. By the end of the 3rd inning, Jack’s team was down 11-3.

The team was playing badly. They were making fielding errors, striking out on bad pitches, their pitchers were all over the place – it was a mess.

Add to that, the other team was amped up. They knew they were going to win and they brought their confidence to bear in a constant stream of chants.

G-O-O-D-E-Y-E…Good eye! Good eye!

Two out rally! Hit it down the alley!

God they were loud and it was affecting our team.

But it’s baseball. And baseball is a looooong game. Keeping that level of intensity up just isn’t possible. The other guys quieted down and sort of slept on their score. It was almost as if they didn’t notice our team creeping back into the game. Our pitching suddenly got great. Our fielders made routine outs. We stopped walking batters and got some strikeouts.

At the bottom of the 6th (last inning), Jack’s team was down 13-8. Last chance and they needed 5 runs to tie it.

To make it more difficult, the bottom of our order was up. Little League batting orders basically have the good hitters up front and the shaky hitters in the back. So we had to get through our shaky kids without 3 outs and try to make it to the really good batters at the top of the line up. A tall order indeed.

I’m gonna focus on 2 back-of-the-order kids. One of them my own.

First was Carson. Carson is the sweetest damn kid. He’s a kid whose body is bigger than his 11-year-old consciousness. He hasn’t caught up with his own size and strength yet.

Carson bats with this big toothy grin that turns into a painful grimace when he strikes out. He swings like hell with his strong frame at almost every pitch that comes his way. Most of the time he strikes out. Once in a while he belts it.

This time, Carson belted it. The crowd and the dugout shrieked with glee as he made it to first base and the kids chanted his name.

Then there was Jack. I’d say out of every 10 at-bats, Jack walks 5, strikes out 4, and hits once. Often his at-bats are indecisive between trying to draw a walk or trying to hit the ball.

The first two pitches came shooting in for strikes. This pitcher was right on. So now Jack, with the game on the line, had to try and get a hit. In came the next pitch…

Plink.

Foul ball down the third base line. Next pitch.

Donk.

Foul ball. Next pitch…

Plonk.

Dink.

Clonk.

Ping.

Donk.

Jack fouled off 7 consecutive pitches. And with each one the crowd and dugout was more and more on edge and into the at-bat. At the same time you could visibly see the pitcher getting more and more discouraged.

BONK!

A shot towards second and Jack was off in a flash. With his trademark speed he blazed to first base and just made it in time. SAFE! Better still, now the top of our order was up.

Three batters later…A single slashed past the third baseman. Jack ran in for the tying run with the winning run right behind him.

Walk off. A walk off win after being down by 9 runs in the 3rd inning.

The celebration was…well, you can’t fake that kind of thing or plan for it. And I think it’s a celebration that only baseball can produce.

All the parents in the stands sprang up and as one launched into the air. Shani screamed at the top of her range. The assistant coach at 3rd base ran across the field to the dugout, literally leaping with joy as he did. At least two kids on Jack’s team were crying.

They shook hands. They milled about. They hugged. Parents hugged and shook hands. Dads and moms patted various kids. No one wanted to leave the ballpark in spite of it being 9:00 on a Sunday night. It was, without a doubt, the game of the year.


A House United…Again

For the second World Series in a row, we are a house united. Every member of the family will be firmly rooting for the Royals. Let me break it down.

Shani:

She grew up in Kansas. On top of that her One True Love™, Paul Rudd, is also rooting for the Royals. This one is obvious.

Pop Pop and Grandma:

Hard core Cardinal fans. My father-in-law actually watches a solid 100+ Cards games a year. Had the Cardinals made it to the Series, we would have had trouble. But their #2 team is clearly the Royals. They lived in Kansas most of their lives and are completely pulling for the boys from KC.

Jack:

The Royals have won because they have players who are fast as hell and play great defense. These are also Jack’s strengths on the baseball field. This is his kind of gang.

Me:

In August, I predicted that the Royals would win the World Series. Jack texted his pals who mocked me. We all threw in $2. They picked the As, Tigers, and Dodgers. All gone. So if the Royals win, I’m getting $6 from a bunch of 6th graders. I will not be letting it slide, either.

And finally…Alex:

2 years ago, Alex went to a Royals game with his grandparents. They had low-cost seats. But before the game some Royal staff girls spotted this cute and wholesome group and escorted them to seats right behind home plate. But more importantly, food was free and all-you-can-eat. Alex ate 2 plates of nachos, 2 huge ice cream sundaes, and God knows what else. So he loves the Royals.

So we are, amazingly, a house completely united. The NuckolBall staff unanimously endorses the Kansas City Royals. And you should too.

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A Video Tribute to Jeter on his Final Day

Note: Jack freaked out when I asked him to read the final verse because “Jeter isn’t dead!”. So I read it.


Goodbye, Mr. Jeter

So let’s start with the tickets. They cost me $288 each. A lot of people have asked and half-asked me, so I figured I’d get that up front. I forked over $576 for Jack and I to go see Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee (plus the cost of a quart of ice cream for Alex).

The forecast called for rain. 100%. There were no playoff implications, which meant if the game was cancelled they would not reschedule. The Yankees website said that I would receive credit for the face value of the tickets ($32).

But the baseball gods favor us. Time and again they have rewarded us with remarkable gifts of fortune. So at 1:00, Jack and I hopped in the car and headed for New York. Derek Jeter’s final game.

We have it down. We park in our old neighborhood (Washington Heights), which is right at the GW Bridge. From there we take the subway to the Bronx. By 3:45 we were outside the stadium in a bigass line of people, all of whom were being soaked in rain. At 4:00 they let us in.

Now, we know what we’re doing. We know how to get autographs and where to stand for balls. And MAN was Jack hoping for an autograph, but this was a rough situation. Pouring rain meant no batting practice and there were loads of fans. It was bleak and it was pouring. Here are shots of my intensely patient son trying to get a ball.

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After an hour I finally convinced him to give up so we could get some food.

So – apologies to a lot of people – but Jack is by FAR my favorite person to go to a ballgame with. He reveres the game more than anyone I know. Inside a baseball stadium he carries a gravity about him of awe and appreciation. More than anyone I know he is aware that every game he attends is a dip into the flow of baseball’s tremendous history. It’s as if half of him is there with you and the other half lifts up and leaves his body. He is so intensely in the moment.

Here are some shots from his first baseball game. Look at his face:

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Now here are shots from the Jeter game.

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Look at the boy. You can see how aware he is of everything. God, it’s incredible to be around him.

On top of that, he watches the game. Real baseball fans understand that. Like a laser he is locked in on every pitch, every routine out, every shift in position by the outfielders.

And finally, everyone at the game around him adores him. It always starts with people saying things like:

“Hey, little man – someday you’ll appreciate this. Remember these games with your dad.”

People think he’s cute. But then they begin to overhear Jack say things like:

“Nelson Cruz is gonna get some MVP votes, but I actually think Altuve has a shot.”

Suddenly they stop treating Jack like he’s my cute fashion accessory and start saying things like:

“Damn…er…he really knows his stuff.”

In truth, it’s starting to feel less like taking my son to a ballgame and more like going to a game with a buddy. I honestly found myself wishing I could get him a beer.

Anyhow, at 6:30 we headed up to our seats, the ground crew pulled off the tarp, the 100% chance of rain became nothing but blue sky, and Derek Jeter’s final Yankee game was on.

The big, expected Jeter moments came. When he first took the field. His first at-bat – and then when he hit a double. The place was screaming from minute one. Again and again the crowd chanted:

Der-ek Je-ter! Clap-clap-clapclapclap!

Der-ek Je-ter! Clap-clap-clapclapclap!

But it’s baseball, right? You can only keep that up for so long. After the 1st inning it was tied 2-2 and from there the crowd toned down the Jetering to sit through 6 scoreless, well-played innings.

In the 7th, who else?, Derek Jeter knocked in 2 runs and at the end of the inning the Yanks were up 5-2. Two innings left to send Jete off with a win.

The Yanks took the field in the top of the 8th, and to me, this was the most emotional inning. The chanting all game had been loud and joyous, but now it was different. It came in a deeper tone and it was twice as loud. It was the bleachers leading it and it was a roar. Everyone seemed to realize that this was it. The end. This was Derek Jeter’s next to last inning at shortstop in Yankee Stadium. And you could see it getting to Derek. From way the hell up I could see him fighting off tears. You could feel him realizing what was happening and you could feel how grateful he was to all the fans yelling his name.

Here – check out this clip if you want. It’s the whole inning.

All the fanfare after the game is all over the news, and it was tremendous, but for my money this was the biggest goodbye moment. It’s certainly the most overlooked.

So into the 9th inning we go. Robertson on to close out the 5-2 victory – and the son-of-a-bitch gave up 2 home runs to let the O’s tie it up. Damnit!

The overwhelming emotions: anger and annoyance. I mean, here we are in a meaningless game, we’re all ready for that final easy out so we can get on with the Captain’s last moment at short. It was the perfect emotional ending that we were all there for. We were ready to cry and cheer together – and stupid Robertson screwed it up. 5-5. Tie game.

It was Jack, ever aware of the batting order, who said: “This is good, we get to see Jeter bat one last time.”

It happened so fast. Bottom of the 9th, tie game. Pirela slashed a single. Gardner bunted him over to 2nd. Jeter up and…

That moment was like a crazy revivalist meeting where the Holy Spirit swoops over the congregation and everyone falls down in fits of convulsions and speaking in tongues. You know when you blow up a paper bag and then pop it? My chest was just like that. Someone popped it and noise exploded out of me – I have no idea what kind of noise it was; I may have been cackling.

Walk off, Jeter. What was about to be a tearful farewell turned into a jubilant celebration. Joe Girardi’s plan was to have Jeter lap the entire stadium and when he got back to home plate, there would be his former teammates (Posada, Petite, Rivera) to embrace him and they would walk down the dugout stairs together, bringing him into retirement. But the baseball gods had other plans.

The team poured onto the field. Jeter’s ex-teammates came out. He leaped for joy. Everyone howled and screamed. Jack and I both tore off our hats and flung them onto the field.

We walked out (finally) trembling and glowing. We took the subway back to the car and away we went. It was hard to believe what we’d just seen.

At some point on the Turnpike, I said to Jack:

“You think we’ll stay friends? Not all teenagers like their dads.”

You can’t really hug someone in the front seat of a car, but Jack pushed his head into my shoulder and said:

“I think so.”

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Post script

Lest you think we have this perfect father-son thing going, it should be noted that halfway home, Jack had a level-3 shitfit because I would not pull over at a rest stop.

“I’m starving!” he wailed.

Apparently, if you buy your son Skittles, a hot dog, a giant soda, peanuts, and pretzel, and $288 tickets to Derek Jeter’s last game – all of that is worthless if you don’t pull over at 11:45 and buy him a pack of Combos.

He shrieked at me for a solid 15 minutes. Then he passed out asleep.

Post-post script

Alex opted for a can of whipped cream instead of a quart of ice cream.

Here are some photos from the game:

In line outside.

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In front of the stadium.

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Jack and his $6 mega-Mt. Dew in commemorative Jeter cup.

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In the stands.

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Here’s our view.

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Jack in mid-revelry.

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After the game. (Note about my idiotic clothing. In preparation for the rain, I wore my camping clothes. It was great for cold/rain. It looked ludicrous. As we were getting into the car to leave for the game, my neighbor walked by and in all seriousness asked me: “Are you going hunting?”)

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These videos are basically unwatchable, but the sound is pretty cool.


Quick Update

This will be quick. 2 baseball-related updates.

1) Fall Ball started and Jack already has a hit. The typical drama we go through each season about “will he finally get that hit?” is just not to be. I think he’s somehow over the hump. First game, first at-bat he smoked a ball that bullseyed the shortstop’s glove for an out. Game two, Jack drilled a ball right down the third base line for a double.

So I’m not sure what kind of tension I can bring to this fall ball season. Maybe we’ll get another run-in with Psycho Coach.

2) I have paid an obscene amount of money to get 2 tickets for Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium. It is next Thursday and there will most assuredly be a related post. I am pulling Jack out of school early so we can get into the game for batting practice.

Alex is not attending. He and I struck a bargain. Instead of getting to go to the game he gets an ENTIRE carton of ice cream all his own.


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