White Flag

Welcome to this season’s final installment of NuckolsDIVE and the official transition back over to NuckolBALL. I have Alex diving updates, a stadium review, and a true milestone in the history of this blog. Here we go.

Alex Nuckols is officially the 45th best diver in the country (among 12-13 year old boys). And while he did not have a particularly good performance in the finals in Atlanta, as my dad said: “I’d like to be 45thbest at anything.”

The finals took place over 5 days in Atlanta, which made for a strange vacation. The four of us had a hotel room. We had both sets of grandparents. And for an joyfully obsessive planner like myself, it was tricky. The whole schedule revolved around Alex’s diving practice, which isn’t finalized until the night before.

“What are we doing tomorrow?” Jack, Shani’s dad, my Dad would ask me.

“I don’t know yet,” I’d answer every time.

But we did a great job being flexible. Jack and I rented scooters and buzzed all over downtown. We went to the aquarium, the human rights museum, Shakespeare Tavern for dinner. We ate at Fat Matt’s BBQ and Old Lady Gang for world-famous soul food. We did a lot of catching up in the hotel lobby. It was also the first time the boys spent time with both sets of grandparents at the same time.

Actually…here are some highlights.

 

The dive meet itself didn’t have the drama of the others this season. In the other ones, Alex was always right on the cusp of making it through to the next level, so they were filled with tension at every dive.

For this meet, Alex was among 40 divers and only the top 6 would advance to the semi-finals. From the start it was pretty clear Alex wasn’t going to make it. Even if he’d had the dive meet of his life, the talent and size of the competition was still out of reach.

But it made for a fun, relaxed watching. I sat next to my dad, who almost immediately became an expert at judging the dives. In most cases he was able to predict the scores, but occasionally he was way off.

“Either I’m wrong or all these judges are wrong,” he said to me. “And I’m pretty sure it’s the judges.”

Alex wasn’t particularly happy with his performance, but his stated goal was “don’t come in last”, and he didn’t. The next day we took him to the World of Coca-Cola Museum and let him drink as much soda in the tasting room as he wanted. (Note: we spent 90 minutes in there.)

So the dive season is over. The boy will spend August watching Netflix.

We also hit SunTrust Park for a Braves game, which I’ll get into in a minute, but first…

Atlanta is the most exasperating city I’ve ever had to drive in. The traffic is soul-crushing.

Every day, I’d have to drive Alex to the pool at Georgia Tech and then pick him up a few hours later. The pool was just over a mile from our hotel. Round trip through Atlanta, it was 35-40 minutes each time. At every intersection I would sit through 2, sometimes 3 cycles of traffic lights before finally getting through so I could wait at the next intersection. For 5 days I had been gritting my teeth through this traffic.

Jack and I headed to the ballpark a solid 3 hours before the game and still we spent 45 minutes to drive the final mile to reach the ballpark. And this for a Marlins game that couldn’t have had more than 10,000 fans. God knows how bad it would be close to game time and with a packed park.

Even to get into the team store and buy shirts, there was a roped off line you had to wait in before they let you in.

The pitcher for Atlanta was Julio Tehran, and he is one of those pitchers that is the epitome of what people hate about baseball. Look in, get the sign from the catcher, shake it off, new sign, shake it off, step off the mound, pick up the rosin bag, back to the mound, get the sign, finally get set, long pause, finallythrow the pitch.

Ball one.

Do it all over again.

By the middle of the 4thinning the game was almost 2 hours long when Starlin Castro came to the plate. Castro and Tehran went into a duel of delays. Tehran would step off the mound. Castro would call for time out. Tehran would shake off more signs. Castro would leave the batters box again. Batter delaying, pitcher delaying…and all the days of traffic boiled up inside me and suddenly I was on my feet:

“Come on, you guys!” I roared. “PLAY BALL!!

The entire section around me become quiet. I could feel my in-laws and Jack looking at me with some shock. It was decidedly awkward. And in spite of the fact that we were in the nosebleed seats behind third base, I am almost certain both Tehran and Castro heard me.

But the big thing about the Brave game: Alex didn’t come with us. And with that, I’m going to call a full stop to this narrative about Atlanta. Because in reality, this is not a blogpost. This is a surrender.

Start here:

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Like his older brother, Alex started playing T-Ball when he was 4.

Unlike his brother, Alex didn’t like it.

Alex had two problems with T-ball. First, he didn’t want to hit off a tee. Second, they didn’t keep score – which made playing totally pointless.

At the last game of the season all the kids got their trophies. Alex and I started walking back to the car and he said: take my picture. And he plopped down right on the sidewalk with his trophy in front of him. I took the photo, he got up, and we went to the car. But I had a little pit in my stomach.

Something about him insisting on that picture…and that fake smile…

He thought that was what he was supposed to do. His job was to get that trophy and have that picture taken with it. He wasn’t playing baseball because he wanted to. He was playing because I wanted him to. Because he thought that was what he was supposed to do.

We had to ask him a few times the next season, but he finally admitted that he didn’t really want to play. Alex and I have actually talked about it many times, and been really glad that he had the courage to admit he didn’t want to play, and I had the wisdom to not make him do it.

Looking back, I could have done it too. Without much pushing, Alex would have stuck with it. By playing, he would have learned to appreciate the game. He and Jack could have played catch in the yard and hit ground balls to each other at the playground. It all would have been pretty different. Alex probably wouldn’t be diving.

When Alex was 5 and Jack was 7 we made our baseball pact. We agreed that we would go to all 30 stadiums together. That summer we took a road trip to Washington DC and over the course of a magic weekend we went to a Nationals game. The boys got to run the bases after the game was over.

We’ve done Toronto, Cleveland, St. Louis. Skyline chili dogs in Cincinnati. Alex barfed after the Mets game because he ate too much popcorn and soda. The boys flipped the giant K placards at the Giants game in San Francisco. We’ve been to 14 ballparks together, and each one is a blazing, joyful memory of time spent with my two sons.

But Alex has opted out. And I get it. He doesn’t like baseball at all and he never has.

And I get all the dads have to let kids be who they are stuff. And I know that is true and right, and it’s what I’m going to do.

But if I’m being honest, my heart is a little bit broken.

It’s the last one that really gets me.

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