Superman’s Blanket

A few things before I show you the video…

  1. Please note that this site has been changed to NuckolDIVE — to celebrate Alex’s extraordinary diving prowess this summer. He is in Orlando for the National Championships — which means he is among the top 50 divers in his age group. I’m headed down tomorrow — expect updates.
  2. My Uncle Coddy and I wrote a song together (I did the lyrics, Coddy did everything else.) I wrote the song about Alex — and it is here in a sappy video.

 

Updates from National Diving championships coming soon!

A Song in the Car

 

I’m processing a lot this morning.

  1. Over the past 2 months, I’ve faced the biggest professional challenge of my entire career. And if I do say so myself, I leaped into space I had no business playing in and this Friday I basically brought the ball over the goal line.

    So I’m still reeling from that.

  2. Jack is off to camp as of last Thursday. It is a month without my guy and it comes with a thickness of both missing Jack and appreciating the simplicity that comes with being down to only three family members.
  3. I’m feeling very much in love with my wife. Alex had a 2-hour diving practice in Philly last night. Usually one of us takes him and stays there at the pool.

    Last night Shani and I both drove him to diving. We dropped him there and shot to Mannyunk for dinner. We got beers and a plate of chicken nachos on the back deck of a place overlooking the canal. We chit-chatted about basically nothing, but I kept being struck by how gorgeous Shani’s hair is. She had on a blousy yoga shirt that was open in the back and as we walked to and from and car, I kept letting her walk ahead of me.

SO…with all that going on, I drove Alex to his swim meet this morning. He’s not as into swimming this year; it’s all about diving for the boy. But as we drove, he put on the Top 40 station and found a poppy tune.

Once I was seven years old
My mama told me to go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely

The song was “7 Years” by Lukas Graham. The lyrics are trite and the melody is pure candy. It’s a 25-year old sharing his wisdom about life. Instant channel change for me.

But I will say…there is nothing like having your 10-year-old sit next to you and sing along with every damn lyric.

No irony. No cynicism. Eyes forward and 100% in the moment of that song. His little voice.

My Uncle Coddy wrote a song called “20 Lifetimes” which is weirdly similar to “7 Years.” Coddy’s song is like a grown-up version of the same idea. Coddy has a lyric at the end:

I’ve felt forever in a moment.
I’ve lived a lifetime in a day.

And it occurs to me that during the ride this morning, as Alex sang that song sitting next to me…that was most certainly a moment in which I felt forever.

Little League Coach Quiz

Wanna know if you’ve got what it takes to be a great Little League coach? Take this quick 2-question quiz:

Question 1: It is a playoff game and the score is tied. The umpire forgets about a critical rule and makes a call that costs your team a run. Do you:

a) Fight for that run! Your kids need you to stand up for them. They want to win. Let that ump know that they missed the call. Call that ump out right there and then.

b) When the inning ends, grab the opposing coach (who is kind of a blowhard) and respectfully conference with the umpire.

(hint: the answer is b)

Question 2: You have a marginal hitter on your team who loves baseball sooo much. (For the sake of this example, we’ll call this kid Jack Nuckols.) As you walk with Jack to the plate for his at-bat, do you:

a) Find a way to motivate him. Bring the intensity. Tell him to focus and that this is his chance to make it happen.

b) Ask Jack: “Bunt? Swing? What are you thinking? It’s your call, how do you want to handle this?”

(hint: the answer is b again)

Quiz complete!

And with that, we now transition to:

An open letter to Coach K

A day may come when my son (or one of the 11 other kids on the team) may make the majors. And my son may look back and think: “I remember Coach K made me a better hitter.”

That’s a possibility, right?

Alternatively…a day may came when my son (or one of the 11 other kids on the team) will encounter a difficult disagreement with a senior citizen, or a policeman, or a veteran — and in spite of the tough situation, my son will treat that person with respect. My son may look back and think: “I remember how Coach K handled that umpire.”

That scenario seems much more likely. For my kid and for every single kid on the team — including your own.

It should also be noted, that your own parents were at the game. I hope they didn’t care that your team lost the game. But I do hope they noticed how you handled that umpire and were beaming with pride. They should have been.

I write this on a Sunday, the day after that game. Yesterday’s loss means that the team is one loss away from elimination from the playoffs. Which means tonight may be Jack’s last Little League game. I find myself awash with a sparkling and thick nostalgia, sweet sadness, and above all, gratitude.

Thank you, Coach K. It’s been a pleasure to have my son’s final season be with you. While I’m at it, thank you Coach Carl, Darren, Bill, Dan, Gary, Charlie, Lance. You’ve all nurtured something in my son and you’ve been central to years of memories that I cherish. Sitting on those metal bleachers, smelling that grass, hearing parents jabber and cheer.

When I think of my own childhood, the main setting I think of are the woods behind my house. I suspect Alex will think about the pool when he pictures his childhood. Jack? Jack will look back and think of this Little League field. And when Shani and I think back to the time when we were raising our kids, the Little League field will loom large there too.

It’s been a blessing.

Hope they win tonight.

With Pride

You may have read blog posts about my younger son, Alex, and his camping adventures.

I am brimming with pride over an article he wrote about 5 hikes in our local area that just got put in our local paper. Here’s the article on line.

And now…I owe him $50.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Fatherhood (The Curse of Donna G’s Boobs)

 

This is the final and concluding installment of the Donna G Project. This project has been written to and for my boys. It was inspired by my wife’s friend Donna G and her experience with breast cancer.

The final subject of the Donna G Project: fatherhood.

If you’re a dad, and you take your kids out for breakfast without your wife, there is a 100% chance that someone will come up to you and say:

“What a good father you are.”

It’s a sure thing. It usually happens 2-3 times over the course of the meal.

Now let’s break this down. A dad spending time with his kids without his wife is so extraordinary that strangers feel the need to come and recognize it. Hell, you’re not even making breakfast – you’re taking your kids out so someone else can do the cooking. But still, it stands out as a marvelous act of fatherhood.

Think that happens if a mom goes somewhere alone with her kids? Not a chance. But that’s how low the bar is for dads.

The fact is, dads get a pass. For some reason, wives, kids, society, everyone is just fine with dads getting away with doing 10% of the parenting. Watch families in public for 5 minutes and you’ll be stunned.

Dads pretend to not smell the dirty diaper. They pretend to not hear the baby crying. They dodge their own kids and for some reason that’s OK. It’s actually expected.

That’s the bar for dads.

Now you may ask yourself: How can this be? Why is it like this? Good question. Well, as a father, I can share 4 reasons that help explain the current state of fatherhood.

Reason #1) There are times when fatherhood sucks

Everyone will tell you it’s wonderful being a dad. Children are a blessing. But in reality, some things about fatherhood are just awful. Fatherhood is sitting through 2-hour pre-school “concerts” where 14 classes of kids sing crappy songs. You wait for your kid’s class to sing and then afterwards you tell them how amazing they were at singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Fatherhood is pushing a big wheel around the driveway until your back is killing you because kids don’t pedal for themselves. Fatherhood is deep knee bends down the hall at 3:55 AM trying to get them back to goddam sleep. It’s rushing into the skankiest gas-station bathroom for an emergency poop and suspending a 4-year-old over the bowl for seven minutes with your face level to the lip of the foul-smelling toilet.

Fatherhood is boring. It’s exhausting. It ruins vacations. Hangovers are brutal.

A lot of the time, it sucks having kids.

Reason #2) Kids make it easy

Fatherhood is the most unfair relationship in the world. You have all the power – and that is awfully seductive. You make the rules. You define good and bad. You have the power to punish and reward. You can say: “Daddy needs to watch this game and then we can play.” And because you said so, you’re right. Hell, you can punish them if they don’t leave you in peace.

In other words: if you want to avoid fatherhood, all you have to do is tell your kid that it is right to do so. They will accept your rules as right because you’re the dad, and you have the power to enforce your bullshit rules.

And on top of it all, that kid worships you. So after laying all that unfair bullshit on them, when you finally do get up and spend 20 damn minutes kicking a rubber ball around the backyard, your kid will forget the 3 hours of waiting. They’ll be deliriously happy. Kicking that ball will be their favorite memory of the whole week. They’ll tell you you’re the best dad in the world.

That is how easy kids make it.

Reason #3) Technology makes it easy

Give your kid your phone – done. Put on a video – done. Set them up with the iPad – done. This one is obvious, but still it is so easy to fall into that trap. Whole teams of brilliant experts are developing technology designed to be more interesting than you. Your kids will beg for it and all you have to do is say yes and you’re off duty.

Reason #4) Society (including wives) make it easy

Think of it this way: if you went to your job and 90% of the time, dodged your workload and dumped it onto your co-workers, what would happen? There’d be a damn mutiny. You’d be fired in a week.

But dads do that every single day and for some reason it’s fine. Maybe wives just give up and decide it’s not worth the fight.

In fact (and I swear I’m not making this up), I wrote a draft of this in an airport and right across from me…a mom, dad, 3 little kids. The kids were crying and fighting and the mom was struggling to wrangle the 3 of them. That dad sat right there, talking on his phone, like he didn’t even realize his kids were there.

So now when you ask yourself why the fatherhood bar is so low, you have 4 solid reasons why. Someday you may experience these reasons first-hand. In fact, that’s where we’re going to go. But before we go there, we’re gonna take a time out. This is the last installment of the Donna G Project, so I thought it made sense to check in with Donna G. Let’s revisit her story, shall we?

It started with an abnormal blood test. Then a scan and the detection of cancer in her right breast. There was telling her husband. There was telling her two daughters. (You boys know them, imagine that moment.) There were logistics and appointments. Then the surgery.

They laid her on her back, put her under, and took scalpels to her breasts. They cut down the tops and across the bottoms, discarded her nipples, and then peeled the skin back like opening up an orange. Then they cut out all the flesh of her breasts. They slid implants under her pectoral muscles. Then with great care and precision, they sewed the skin back together.

Start there. Consider that mutilation. That physical devastation.

From there, the slow, plodding, aching recovery. Physical therapy. Muscle spasms in the pectoral muscles. Knots in the tendons under her armpits that a physical therapist would have to “crack” by pushing down hard with both thumbs. That’s what Donna G went through.

It’s been two years and no sign of the cancer returning. But still the thought never leaves. When Donna’s knee hurts after going for a run, cancer lingers. She will think: “Has it spread to my bones?” Horrible doubt and fear lurking. Donna G lives under that shadow.

She takes medicine that causes her hands to ache. Her daughters will notice when it’s bad and say, “You don’t have to braid my hair, Mommy. I’ll wear it straight today.”

Donna has faced it with grit. With bravery and clarity. She told me, “cancer is a control freak and you have to take control back from it.” That’s what she does. That’s what she has done. “It’s the new normal,” she says.

And as I read that over, it occurs to me that those are her reasons. If she wanted to do a half-ass job as a parent, she had plenty of compelling reasons.

So with that, let’s go back to fatherhood, shall we? Because as we come to the conclusion of this project, I am invoking all the power of Donna G. The suffering, the endurance, the refusal to live under any terms but her own. I invoke all of it and bring it to bear in the form of a curse.

When it comes to fatherhood, you two don’t get a pass. Your pass has been revoked. You two get a different bar and I’m setting it right here and right now. In all the other things I’ve written, I’ve given you advice. This is not advice. This is a requirement. This is mandatory.

I am calling on the full power of Donna G’s boobs and laying this curse upon you.

If you choose to have kids, you are going to be kickass dads. You read that right; I am placing an honest-to-God curse on you.

Oh, and remember those 4 reasons I laid out? Well those don’t hold water for the two of you.

“But sometimes being a dad is so annoying. I thought it would be fun.”

Too bad. Get in there. I don’t care how bad it sucks. Especially when it sucks. You will engage every friggin’ time. You will get your ass off the couch. You will dress up in dumb costumes. You will play hide and seek even though kids always hide in the exact same spot every stinkin’ time.

“My kids tell me I’m a great dad. They understand that I need time to myself. I’m helping them be independent.”

You don’t get to pull that bullshit. That incredible power over your kids is to be used to make them good people. It is to teach them good life habits and ingrain them with a sense of right and wrong. You get to use that power responsibly and for the interest of your kids, not for your own self-interest. It takes tremendous restraint and discipline – but that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.

“They don’t want to play with me – they want their devices.”

You’re gonna put that shit down. Devices are not the parents — you are. You need to be more fun than the device. Cut that bullshit out.

“But that’s how dads are. My wife gets it.”

BULLSHIT! 100 times – bullshit! You will not buy into that – do you hear me? You’re gonna get down on that rug and roll around. You’re gonna push that kid in those swings and chase them around the playground – then do it again. You are going to be the first to smell that diaper and you change it, goddamit. That’s your kid. Spring out of bed at night when you hear the crying. Read those awful picture books over and over.

You two listen to me, and listen good. This curse is real. It is legal and binding. It is happening. If you boys choose to be fathers, you will honor this curse or you will spend fatherhood with my foot (and Donna G’s foot) up your ass.

That is the curse of Donna G’s boobs – and I hereby lay it squarely on you both.

Pause.

Full stop.

Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’ve just had a curse placed on you. Because now I want to follow that rant with a few stories. Check it out.

My precious son, Jack:

The day after you were born I went for a run. My run took me through a tunnel and as I ran through it I suddenly found myself bellowing: JACK! JACK! JACK! It just gushed out of me. Again and again, I yelled it with all the might my thunder-throated voice could bring. The sound of your name crackled off the concrete arches and each time I heard it, reality sunk in deeper and deeper.

What had happened didn’t seem possible – but it was real. I was a father. I had a son.

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My son, Alex:

When you were three we spent a whole day together. Mom and Jack were away for some reason. You and I ran errands, we played ninja fights, we had dinner together. That night, I put you to bed and you were falling asleep the second you lay down. As I tucked you in, you said to me in the sleepiest voice:

“I wish we were twins.” Your voice was so tiny.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then we’d be together always for our whole life.”

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My son, Jack:

When you were two years old and we were living in that temporary apartment in Pennsylvania, you wanted to play cars outside after dinner. It was raining just a little, so I sat down on the concrete and rested against the door. I expected you to go play cars on the sidewalk, but instead you sat down right next to me like it was perfectly normal and suddenly everything everything locked into crystal clear focus. The whole universe instantly made perfect sense. In that moment I literally knew the meaning of life with absolute certainty. I had it in the palm of my hand. The doughy little boy, side by side with me on that cold concrete was everything I had ever wanted or needed. It was more than I ever had the right to ask God for, but there it was just the same.

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My beautiful son, Alex:

Our first backpacking trip. We slept in the shelter, and in the middle of the night it absolutely poured. The rain rattled so loudly on the metal roof it woke me up. I sat and listened to the whole world roaring around me. Out there with no one around for miles I sat there with your tiny sleeping body next to me, and I wished that moment would last forever.

My two sons. My two magic boys:

These moments are endless for me. I could fill pages and pages and pages with these moments. You boys have brought me joy that dwarfs anything else I have ever known. When it comes to my love for the two of you, it feels like God himself pulled the sun from the sky and stuffed it into my chest. To me, that is fatherhood. That is what the two of you have brought to me.

So yes, I have put a curse on you. But in spite of what the majority of people seem to believe, Fatherhood is not a curse.

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Down and Away

 

Let’s start with a quick update on Jack’s little league season. He’s about 6 games in and we have yet to get a hit. At first he was hitting long fouls, pop fly outs, and drawing walks. But that past 3 or so games, he’s started the old pattern. Striking out looking. Weak, late swings.

Yesterday he had a game at 5 and asked me if I wanted to go have a catch that morning. We did that for a while, and then on the way home he started telling me:

“I hope I get to pitch today.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I’ve been working on this new pitch. It sinks down and away. It’s a 2-seamer, but I twist my hand…”

Insert MASSIVE eye roll from me.

See, here’s the deal with little league pitching – throw strikes. That’s all. I see kids out there trying to throw curves or change ups or whatever…they hit the backstop and bounce on the ground and get by the catcher. Throw hard strikes and you’re good. Try and throw junk and it’s a mess. So forgive me if I tuned out Jack’s explanation of new pitches.

We get to game time and the first half inning was a complete disaster. Jack’s team pitched like crap, fielded like crap, and before they even got to bat they were down 11-0.

When they finally got to bat, they scored a couple runs back, but Jack managed to end the inning by striking out with 2 of the worst swings ever. I think the last pitch may have actually been in the catcher’s glove by the time Jack decided to swing. Oh yeah – it is a slump.

Back in the field for the second inning and another kid on Jack’s team pitched poorly. So with two men on and two out, Coach K calls for Jack.

“Time to be nervous,” Shani said.

“Well,” I said to Shani, “given the score, it’s a safe time to pitch. Not like the game is on the line.”

Jack took the mound. The batter hit two foul balls for quick strikes, and then whiffed for strike three.

“He struck him out!” Shani cheered. “Go, Jack!”

“That pitch actually just did what Jack said it would do,” I said, a little unsure of what I’d just seen.

Next inning, top of the order. Double. Walk. And then…

Whiff! Strike out swinging.

I watched the catcher’s mitt this time. I’ll be damned if that ball didn’t start in the zone, and then dive down and away. Guy missed it by a mile. Two quick groundouts later, Jack got out of the inning with no runs scored.

Next inning: Strike out swinging. Strike out swinging. Single. Strike out swinging. Guys were whiffing left and right at Jack’s down and away pitch.

He came in for a third inning, and promptly walked the first batter. The coach pulled him, but his whole team was cheering for him. The boy was flying high.

After the game (they lost 15-8), Jack was smiling ear to ear as parents from both teams complimented him on his pitching. He grabbed 2 hot dogs from the snack bar (they’re free after the game) and stuffed them in his mouth as we drove away.

“I was mufflemumble change eye levels muffle stuffle.”

“You know, you no longer have a 0.00 ERA, because that guy you walked came around to score.”

“No. GULP. He came in on an E-6, so I’m still zero.” He went on for the next 10 minutes to give us his entire philosophy behind how he pitches.

We went out for dinner and he thanked our server without being told. Then when we went home, he was nice to his little brother. It was good stuff. So who knows how long that slump will last.

A few side notes:

Side note 1: Big compliments are due to Coach K. The umpire made a TERRIBLE call at 3rd base to end our team’s inning. Coach K was standing right there. He started to argue, but in mid-sentence he stopped talking and just jogged right for the dugout. I thought that was exactly the right way to handle that.

Side note 2: The Phillies have responded to Jack’s request to interview a player again. In a few weeks, Jack is set to go to the stadium and interview Tyler Goeddel.

Side note 3: Alex has written an article about great hikes in the area that the local paper is considering printing. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that.

 

Tampa Rays Blues

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We begin…with stress. At work, we were launching a new product and the big launch meeting was in Orlando this week. Our client was a flaming ball of stress heading up to the meeting, which led to some seriously uncomfortable phone calls over the weekend where she used the word “disappointed” a lot.

But the launch meeting went off beautifully. She was getting praised left and right. Tuesday night she apologized to me and my co-worker, Tony (or at least as much as a client ever apologizes). We had known that a Tampa Bay game was a possibility, but up until then we thought we’d be in high-stress meeting mode. But suddenly the weight was coming off our shoulders…next thing we knew we were in the car wearing shorts and headed for a baseball game.

There are 4 people I know who love baseball more than I do:

  1. Jack (obviously)
  2. Andrew Kaufman (in a class of his own — see end of that blogpost)
  3. My friend, Wade
  4. Tony

Tony is a real-deal, haunted, Philadelphia sports fan. Sports are part of the boy’s core makeup. You know how some kids have manners drilled into them and it stays with them for life? Kids in Philly are taught sports that way.

Which leads me to…

Official NuckolBall Review of Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

There’s a big moment going to a new park when you first see the stadium. You come around a corner and spot it. Or in this case, you see it from the highway. It was a big white bubble with a slanted roof. Here’s a shot Tony took from the car:

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We found $10 parking, scored $19 tickets in the 4th row in left field, and learned it was $2 hot dog night. Then in we went. Check out this video…

I’ll confess, I expected Tropicana Field to suck. But as we walked in and looked around, I thought it looked pretty cool. It was a dome stadium, which made it feel small. It had incredible access to the field and any seat was close to the action.

“Maybe this isn’t so bad,” I said to Tony.

But that wore off quick. Here’s what’s wrong with Tropicana Field:

1) Turf

It doesn’t seem like real baseball. When guys run for a fly ball, something seems off. Scuff marks on their pants seem odd – it’s not real dirt, why should it stain their pants? Plus it look absolutely awful. Check out the photo, the surface looks like a worn out, greasy sweater.

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2) Concessions

Modern ballparks are designed so you can get to the concessions without leaving the action. At the Trop, you descend into a blue cavern that is completely cut off from the field. Parts of it felt like the Philadelphia Airport (worst, most claustrophic airport in the country). Parts felt like the halls of a hospital.

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My living room has higher ceilings.

 

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This way to radiology.

3) Blue

The Rays have no logo, no marquis player, no real history to speak of, no fans. They have the color blue. That seems to be their entire identity. Every damn thing was blue.

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4) Atmosphere

Maybe it was the roof, or the lighting, or the turf, or the lack of people in the stands, but it didn’t feel like a major league baseball game. The place was completely, freakishly devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever. There were no crowd noises, just a weird murmur. The sound of the ball and bat were muffled and off. It felt like a trade show being held at the local college arena. Everyone was sitting around waiting for the college team to finish up their practice before we could start setting up our folding tables.

But there were some good things. Parking was easy. It’s a great place to get a ball. Tony introduced me to “The Game” and then promptly lost $11 to me (I will not explain The Game). Actually…the best part was getting to go with Tony. Tony is a fan who sees more things than I do, was excited about stuff I didn’t know to be excited about, and was generally even more comfortable in a ballpark than I am. It was a real treat to go with him.

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To conclude, Tampa Bay was my 18th park, and it has taken over the bottom spot of my rankings. It’s even worse than the dreadful Rogers Center in Toronto. But still, as we drove off on 275 headed back to Orlando, Tony and I were jabbering away, happy as a pair of songbirds. Even the worst ballpark in the country is still cause of celebration and joy.

 

TMI about the start of baseball season

Baseball season has finally returned. I have 2 observations:

1) Good evenings

Jack and I sat on the couch the other night and put on the Yankees game. We watched 1 inning, but it was a 45-minute inning where the Yanks battered the Astros. The boy is 12, but he still sat down next to me and we snuggled as the room got darker and darker.

Shani got home to find us in the pitch dark, laughing about the fact that there is a pitcher on the Phillies whose ERA is actually infinity.

I took a shot of the screen and then flipped it around for a selfie.

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2) Good mornings

Baseball season means better poops for me.

I’m like clockwork. Coffee hits system…system goes poop. It’s as regular as it gets. During non-baseball season I check Facebook and other dumb things on my phone while I’m doing my business. But during baseball season, I watch the FastCast and then peruse the highlights from the night before.

It’s the absolute best.

 

 

Game on, Coach K

Jack had his first practice for spring Little League. The dummy forgot his glove, so Shani had to run back and get it. I picked him up after practice.

“How was practice?”

I expected the usual response. “Good.” But he was looking away from me and trying not to smile. You know that smile when you’re trying to play like it’s no big deal, but really you’re glowing inside.

Apparently the coach had pulled Jack aside and said:

“I’ve been watching you for 6 years and I’ve been dying to get you on my team. I know how to make you a good hitter. I have a stance that I know will work. I also know that you know more about baseball than any kid in the league.”

You should have seen Jack trying to play it cool when he told me that.

And of course, we got this email later that night:

Hi Shani,

I think Jack left his bat tonight which I have in my car and will bring tomorrow.
Thanks
Coach K

 

He’s all your, Coach.