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…
Foul ball down the third base line. Next pitch.
Foul ball. Next pitch…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Note: Jack freaked out when I asked him to read the final verse because “Jeter isn’t dead!”. So I read it.
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.
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:
Now here are shots from the Jeter game.
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.”
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.
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.
In front of the stadium.
Jack and his $6 mega-Mt. Dew in commemorative Jeter cup.
In the stands.
Here’s our view.
Jack in mid-revelry.
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?”)
These videos are basically unwatchable, but the sound is pretty cool.
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.
Every once in a while I try and rank all the stadiums I’ve visited, and I have a tough time with it. However, one thing is always very easy: Oakland is last. In fact, on virtually any stadium ranking you find, Oakland will be last.
I went there three years ago with my college roommate, Reef. The stadium is basically a circular concrete staircase with metal chairs bolted in. There was no crowd in spite of the fact that the A’s were a playoff team. In fact, we had the entire section to ourselves except for a woman who I’m pretty sure was a crackhead. And I’m fine talking baseball with a crackhead, but this lady kept coming over and yammering on about stuff that made no sense and was certainly not baseball-related.
But this past week I was on the West Coast. Reef and I made plans to hit a game. Now…let me show you the experience of just going to your seats.
First, you cross a bridge over a chemical factory and an industrial water trench.
Then you get to the stadium and go through a series of concrete monolith passages. Look at this…
It’s like traveling through the city sewage system. Horrible. The Coliseum is a throwback to the NFL of the 70s and is completely out of sync with the gorgeous steel and glass marvels that baseball stadiums have become. When we reached our seats in the bleachers, I was not at all surprised to find the stadium practically empty.
OK, have you ever found a bar or a restaurant that is just AWESOME, and no one knows about it? The food is great, it’s cheap, it’s never crowded. It’s the perfect place to go hang out – in fact you can’t believe no one else knows about this gem.
Let’s start with the people in the bleachers. Look at the photos.
We’re talking 30 fans, tops, and another 30 in the right field bleachers. But these 60 people fill the entire stadium with a force equal to a full crowd at another stadium. They are tremendous. Watch an Oakland home game on TV for 30 seconds and they’ll certainly show these folks.
In other stadiums it is the scoreboard and PA system that sparks the crowd. They play the “charge” bugle call or start flashing signs that say “LET’S – GO – TEAM” and try to get the crowd to chant along. At Yankees Stadium they still play the insufferable “Cotton Eye Joe”.
There is no need for pumped-in crowd enthusiasm in Oakland. These people lead the crowd. They have drums, cowbells, massive flags, and blaring bugles. God, they’re fun! On top of that, they are real deal baseball fans watching the game like pros. Proof? See how the game played out:
Oakland pitched poorly and by the 8th inning were down 6-0. Not one person left. Nor did they let up on the cheering and drumming. Each Oakland batter was chanted and cheered for in spite of the game being completely out of reach.
When Oakland got a run in the 8th, the crowd went bananas. Then they scored 2 more runs to make it 6-3.
Then in the 9th, the Mariner’s closer came out and the A’s put 2 more runs on the scoreboard. It was amazing and the crowd was bonkers. They were part of the team and part of the comeback.
But the final score was 6-5. The Mariner closer Fernando Rodney* finally got the last out. Then…and only then…did the crowd leave.
So want to know what the Oakland Coliseum is like? The food sucks (although the people who work the food counters are incredibly nice). The stadium is a pit. But the crowd is a home run. Spend the $14, sit in the bleachers, and get ready for a great time.
*Regarding Fernando Rodney. I would be rooting for the Mariners if it were not for him. He is their closer, and every time he closes a game he makes this asinine motion where he pretends he is drawing a bow and firing an arrow into the sky. It is beyond obnoxious. I so wish that someday circumstances would force him to bat so the pitcher could BLAST a fastball into his fat ass.
Here’s a clip of the arrow crap:
Not to mention, when you’re asked to close out a 6-3 game and give up 2 runs before closing the game, maybe you should tone down your stupid arrow celebration.
As a matter of fact, here’s a clip of Rodney blowing a save where Mike Trout and Albert Pujols mock the crap out of Rodney.
OK…sorry about the digression there. But to get back to the point — get your but to Oakland.
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.