Alex had a soccer game this weekend, and I happened to notice something on the sidelines. Check these two photos out.
Here are the dads from my town:
Here are the dads from a nearby town:
Look closely. Look at the difference in the clothes, the postures, the expressions.
Which dads do you think are discussing skills their 9-year-olds need to work on? Which dads are talking about coaching philosophy and team strategy? Which dads are taking mental notes of pointers to provide their kids after the game?
Which dads are having more fun watching the game?
Which dads yell things like: “Cross it! You need to find the open man!” Which yell: “Nice job!” and “Good try!”
I don’t name the town I live in on the blog, but it’s a town full of wealthy white people. Dads are lawyers and investment bankers. And truth be told, I don’t often feel like I fit in that well. Interestingly enough, I found myself on the midfield line, exactly between the two groups.
On one hand, I’m an unconditional rooter. I love watching Alex hop around out there. I sit during the game and I don’t watch as if I’m a paid consultant. I don’t wear athletic gear to watch soccer as if they’re going to call me in to play forward. I do not own a visor.
Yet on the other hand, there is a deep and irresistible competitive asshole in my heart. I squirm as Alex fails to go after the ball. I want to yell: “Don’t just stand there and watch the ball roll after you kick it! You’re not playing golf!” And while I never yell that, I will yell things like: “Keep pushing forward, boys!” and “Get tough on defense!” as if it was a video game and I could control the kid/players with my voice.
I will make a final comment about the town from photo #2. That is the town where “psycho coach” is from. This coach dropped the F-bomb at Jack in a baseball game and later challenged our coach to fight in the parking lot. I wrote and award-winning blog post about this incident.
The coach was reprimanded by the league but not removed as a coach. But in response to this, several parents from that town threatened to pull their kids from the league if the coach was not removed. The guy stepped down. So while they’re chill on the sidelines, they stand up when it really counts.
*Important note: the post won no award. I made that up.
I wrote this post as part of a project Fanatics is doing to show how sports brings families closer together. It’s a cool project and I was excited to post about that idea (actually most of my posts are really about that idea). So if you’re looking for sports stuff, maybe check out Fanatics first – especially if you’re looking for MLB Caps. They seem to be about more than just sports stuff — they’re about the impact sports can have on families.
My son Jack and I are pretty close – and baseball is one of the big connections we share. We’re both Yankees fans and he was 7 when they won the Championship in 2009. Every morning we’d check the recaps on line to see who won and then check the standings. Baseball is really something special for us. But we don’t just watch baseball together – Jack plays baseball too. And that’s led to some memories that cement our baseball connection. Here’s an example that stands out:
Last year was Jack’s first year of kid-pitch baseball. First game, first at-bat, first pitch…CLUNK…Jack gets drilled in the thigh. He never really recovered. Every at-bat from then on he was basically cowering. He never even swung. (Mind you, he still walked a lot because first year kid pitch is all walks and stealing. It’s brutal.)
So I said to him: “You get a hit and we all go out for milkshakes.” (Milkshakes are a standard bribe in our household.)
That worked a little and slowly as the season went on, he actually started to take half-hearted swings from time to time. But he was still not very close to getting a hit. It became a pretty big deal for the whole team. Everyone wanted to see Jack get a hit. (His brother, Alex, most of all, because he wanted a milkshake.)
At the second-to-last game of the year, the coach says that they need a parent to be the field umpire. I, foolishly, volunteered. I’d umped the previous year once before and it was a mess. Probably the most stressful two hours of my life. I blew a bunch of calls. However, I did learn to take a minute, think, and then make the call.
So I’m calling Jack’s game and doing all right. Then in the 5th inning I notice that the opposing team’s new pitcher is throwing meatballs. Practically underhanded. Jack is on deck and about to go to the plate. I jog over, lean down and say:
“Jack, this guy is throwing slow and right down the middle. This is your guy. This is it.”
His eyes got big and he nodded. I scurried back to my post between first and second.
In comes the pitch. Jack swings and corks it right down the third base line. He takes off running, but not very fast because he’s watching the ball. The third baseman grabs the ball, fires it across the diamond. Jack’s foot hits the bag just as the ball hits the first baseman’s glove. It’s a photo finish.
I stand for a moment. Go over what I’d just seen…and then say:
“I’ve got him out.”
I called him out. The result was nothing sort of devastation. I couldn’t look at Jack, but I heard him go back to the dug out, which was right at first base. From there I can hear him sobbing. I hear his coach speaking words of encouragement. I hear Shani come over from the stands and try to comfort him. Jack continues to hide his face under his batting helmet and weep. No milkshake. No big hit. His dad had told him that the big moment had arrived…and then took it right away from him.
We had an awkward walk back to the car and an awkward ride home. I told him that I really did think he was out and I had to call it fairly. He insisted he was safe, but not in an angry way.
The next morning after breakfast, I consulted my to-do list. I had a bunch of things to get done. I lifted the notebook up and there, scrawled in big blocky kid writing is a new item on my to-do list:
“Go back in time and call Jack safe.”
EXT. THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL – DAY
ALEX hikes along the trail ahead of MIKE, Alex’s father. Both are wearing backpacks.
The summer your mom was pregnant with you, she was really tired and always sleeping. So Jack and I spent lots of time together. I’d put him on the back of my bike and we’d go to Einstein’s bagels for breakfast. We’d go to the park. We’d go swimming in the pool. We didn’t have any friends because we were in the temporary apartment, so that summer Jack and I got to spend so much time together. It was such a great time.
Just like this right now. Except with you and me.
That’s exactly where I was going. I miss Jack, but we’ve been doing so much fun stuff together.
Mom was pregnant?
(getting lost in the memory)
Your mother was so damn beautiful when she was pregnant.
More beautiful than she is now?
It was so fun being pregnant. I loved when mom was pregnant. You’re just so excited about it…aw, man, I’m getting’ choked up.
I’m starting to cry too.
Alex and I chattered away the whole time, but this moment stands out. Such a mishmash of things were suddenly going through my head. I was remembering how it felt when Shani was pregnant with him. You dream about all the things you’ll do with that kid. How much fun it’ll be to be a dad. I was so excited about it.
And then at the same time here I was in the actual reality of being a dad. Here I was backpacking with my 8-year-old son.
Because for all the dreaming I did about how great it would be to be a dad, it could not touch the liquid sunlight joy of the real thing. Of sitting next to each other on a rock overlooking the Lehigh Valley, sharing a peanut-butter and nutella sandwich and drinking ice-pure water that we’d filled from a spring that morning. Of waking up in the shelter at 1:30 AM and listening to the rain on all the leaves. Hearing the rattle of rain on the roof of the shelter. The small body next to me curled up in the sleeping bag. Magic magic magic.
He got it too. As clear as day he got it and it hit him just as hard. So forgive us both if we got a little emotional.
Here are the photos.
And I know I told you 1 video, but I love ya’, so I’m giving you 2.
Saturday at lunch, I asked Alex if he was excited about his dive meet the next morning. He got a little evasive.
“Kind of? Why?”
“I’ve been having trouble with my front flip. I keep over-rotating.”
And he sounded genuinely sad about it. Please note that the front flip is Alex’s signature dive. He is the master of the front flip; it’s historically where he gets his highest scores.
“Then let’s go to the pool right after lunch. You can practice your dives.”
He perked right up. “Yeah – I’ll do front flip, one-and-a-half, front flip, one-and-a-half and do them each about a million times.” And off we went to the pool along with Alex’s Pop-Pop. The boy got to the diving board, tried his flip…he was right. He was over-rotating.
Here’s the thing. The next day Alex was in a dive meet, but he wasn’t competing against the other divers. He was in a class of his own trying to qualify for the Junior Olympics (JO). This means where the other divers were doing 3 dives, Alex would be doing 5. Herein came the problem.
Alex had recently learned to do a one-and-a-half. This is where he does a complete flip, then keeps rotating another 180 degrees until he goes into the water in a dive. This had screwed up everything. The front flip and the one-and-a-half had blended together. He rotated too far on the flip and too little on the one-and-a-half. Both dives were a mess.
“I don’t think I’m going to qualify,” he told me with he eyes down on his chest.
My Alex is not a creature of self-doubt, and to be honest this really concerned me. I was about to give him the old: “Of course you’ll qualify” in raucous Dad tone, but then I started doing the math. Alex had scored a 59 at the last meet and done 3 dives – plus he’d nailed all three. To qualify for JO he needed a score of 94. That meant he had to do even better.
“Look,” I told him, “if you don’t qualify, there’s another dive meet next weekend. You’ll have a whole week to practice for that.”
6AM my alarm went off. I made coffee and then went to wake up Alex.
“I’m so excited,” was the first thing he said, which I took to be a good sign. Maybe the self-doubt was gone.
We got him there for warm ups, but he was still over-rotating. He was getting closer to getting his front flip right, but he needed more time. However the damn line of kids warming up was just too long. I was pretty nervous for him.
Meet started, they got through the girls, then the boys, then Alex.
“Alex will be doing a front flip. Degree of difficulty: 1.4”
I hadn’t known the flip was first – we’d see real quick how things were going to go for our boy. Alex got up on the board, started his approached, in the air…
Perfect flip. Went in exactly right. I heard the gasp from his coach.
I tried adding that up in my head, but I have deep doubts about my ability to accurately score a dive. Next up…
One-and-one-half. Degree of difficulty: 1.6. Up the boy went, whipped around and around and plunged into the pool in a dive.
Back dive. Arced into the pool in a gorgeous descent.
Inward. This one scares the shit out of me. The boy shot backwards and turned down to dive right into the water.
Flip and half twist. This mother had a 1.7 degree of difficulty, which I knew was good for points. The higher the difficulty, the more points it’s worth. I found myself on my phone trying to calculate how close he was to the 94.5 he needed to qualify.
Alex got up, did his approach, into the air in a flip and twist.
The final result:
If you missed it, his score was 130.85. And where my head is going…scholarship!
OK, so we all know Alex doesn’t like baseball. It’s sort of the running joke of this blog. (Although in my eyes it’s not a joke, it’s a serious character flaw that is my duty as a father to fix.)
But what Alex does like is swimming and diving. For the past 4 summers he’s been on the swim team and the dive team at our pool. Monday through Friday he spends an hour swimming and then an hour diving every morning. You should see the boy each July — he’s freakin’ ripped. And this means I spend plenty of time at swim meets and diving competitions. I invest lots of blog posts reporting on baseball games, so I figured I would talk about the swim and dive experience.
So swim meets..right. They’re awful.
There is no tension. There is no teamwork. There are no exciting plays. There is no variety. There is no action. I mean, yes, they are in motion and they’re working hard, but…
You know what it’s like? It’s like mid-term election night in the House. You’ve seen the polls, so 90% of the matchups you already know who’s going to win. Sure there are a few races where it’s close – those are exciting – but for the most part it’s a foregone conclusion. In fact, well before election night, you know which team will win control of the House.
Swim meets are the same. You’ve calculated who will win before it ever starts. We know we’ll win the 50 meter freestyle, boys 50 butterfly we’ll take 1st and 2nd, and Molly is in backstroke so that’s in the bag. We know we’re going to win going in. So with the exception of a few close races where it suddenly gets exciting for 30 seconds, a swim meet is just a 3 hour swim practice where I get up 3 or 4 times to yell for Alex.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching him race and I love that he’s getting great results. He’s doing awesome and he’s qualified for “Tri-County” in backstroke and butterfly — for which I am very proud.
But for my money, it’s not a sport. Well, maybe it’s a sport, but it’s certainly not a team sport. Yes there is a swim “team”, but there is no teamwork whatsoever. And after a swim meet there’s really nothing to report in a blog post.
As for dive meets, for me watching a dive meet is mostly about hoping for other kids to do poorly. At least until Alex comes up and then I’m so excited when he nails a dive I can’t stand it.
In truth, Alex dominates in diving. He’s won first place in every meet he’s participated in this year. He’s naturally agile, strong, and flexible. But on top of that he has a focused work ethic that most adults couldn’t match. We’ll go to the pool in the evening and he’ll spend hours practicing his dives on his own. Alex scores 6s and 7s where others usually get 4s and 5s.
This Sunday, since he’s already qualified for “Tri-County”, he is trying to qualify for “Junior Olympics”. This means he will execute 5 dives instead of the 3 everyone else will do.
And get this…my little 8-year-old will be doing:
- Back dive
- Front flip
- Tuck dive (jump off board, tuck into ball, come out of ball into a dive)
- One and a half (off board, do flip, continue rotating forward into a dive)
- Flip and half twist (off board, do a flip, turn 180 degrees so you are facing the board, enter water)
Wild stuff. And in reality…that will be worth a post. Stay tuned for results.
The quest for an MLB article continues. Jack sent out letters to 9 MLB teams requesting interviews. We heard from the Mets and Jack interviewed reliever, Scott Rice, who was super nice.
Jack has now written a second letter – he has decided to focus his article on relievers.
Here is the text:
My name is Jack. I am writing an article about relief pitchers. I recently interviewed Scott Rice of the Mets. Now I need to interview another relief pitcher. Can I set up a time to interview one of your pitchers?
Last year when I was 9 I wrote an article on the minor leagues. Eventually, the article was published in the local newspaper, the Haddonfield Sun.
Contact my dad, Mike Nuckols, his information is above.
He has written to:
- Yankees: Tony Morante, Director, Stadium Tours
- Phillies: Rob Brooks, Manager, Broadcasting
- Orioles: Monica Barlow, Director, Public Relations
- Indians: Tom Hamilton, Announcer
- Red Sox: Colin Burch, Director of Broadcasting
- Nationals: Jessica Baruch, Coordinator, Marketing and Broadcasting
- White Sox: Bob Grim, Senior Director of Business Development and Broadcasting
- Royals: Mike Cummings, Assistant Director, Media Relations
Really hoping he hears back from these guys.
This is a quick one, but one that was felt intensely.
Jack is gone. He is at camp for a month. One month.
Appropriately, we watched a baseball game on his last night at home. Jays-Yanks and we watched the entire thing. It was a sloppy embarrassment of a game for the Yankees but then they climbed back to tie it, only to lose it on a walk-off error. We sat on the couch together, snuggling and yelling at the Yankees to play better. I could smell the dusty scent of his hair.
We drove to Vermont the next day through awful squalls of rain, and stayed in a motel. Next morning we had pancakes with thin, sweet Vermont maple syrup for breakfast. We weren’t supposed to get to the camp until 2:00, so we went for a hike up Vermont’s deepest gorge, but none of us were present.
We took him to the camp. Camp councilors applauded each new car that arrived. We took him up to his cabin where Alex helped him unpack his things and Shani helped him make his bunk. I couldn’t help but think that only the top two shirts in the pile would actually be worn.
We headed down to the nurse for an initial checkup and to sign in with the head of the camp. There was a soft tension all around. The parents and kids all wore it. An excitement but a hesitation. Jack immediately drifted away from us and went to the basketball court. He found a ball and started shooting baskets along with 3 or 4 other subdued boys.
He was ready. He’d been preparing for months. He knew this day was coming and he was ready to show himself and us.
“What’s the best strategy for leaving?” I asked the camp head. It was happening so fast. We’d been there less than 30 minutes.
“Just go,” he said. And I knew that was going to be his answer.
We headed towards Jack, who was now kicking a soccer ball around with some other boys. He came right over. He gave me a quick hug. Then Shani.
Then he got caught, of all places, on Alex.
They fumbled at each other. Alex put up a hand to slap five but they also bumbled into each other in a misfired hug as they spoke over each other.
….I’d rather kick you in the butt”
Jack’s face was suddenly patchy and red. He hadn’t thought about Alex at all. He knew he’d be away from Shani and me. He’d considered that at length. But he hadn’t counted on being without his genuine-but-never-admit it best friend and companion.
And then we left.