The Scott Rice Effect

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.

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Here is the text:

Dear ,

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.

Thank you,

Jack Nuckols

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.

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Jack Nuckols: the Barbara Walters Interview

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In the wake of his newfound fame following his front-page feature of the Haddonfield Sun, Jack Nuckols sat down for an intimate interview with Barbara Walters. [Link to article at the end.]

BW: So, Jack, how does it feel to be a celebrity?

JN: Well, it’s sort of like when I won the geography bee but a little better because I like baseball more than geography.

BW: Now I understand that lots of girls in your class…

JN: BARBARA!

BW: I hear they talk about how handsome…

JN: STOP IT BARBARAAAAAA!

BW: OK, we’ll switch topics. Tell me what was the hardest part of visiting all those ballparks to write your story?

JN: Going anywhere with my dad is a pain because so many girls stop him to tell him how handsome he is. Some guys too, but mostly girls.

BW: Word is he’s going to be named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine.

JN: I don’t know about that, but it’s annoying when girls stop him. And don’t even say anything about girls to me!

BW: Now your mom. How did she contribute?

JN: Well…whenever I need a band aid, she takes care of that. But if there are chips and salsa out, my mom eats ALL the salsa.

BW: Now I hear Mike Trout has been calling you for fielding advice recently.

JN: I gave him a few pointers. It’s mostly confidence with him.

BW: Why does your mom like salsa so much?

JN: I don’t know, but if you want salsa and my mom is around, you better hurry up before she finishes it all.

BW: Now what are you hoping to accomplish this baseball season. Other than impressing the ladies.

JN: BARABARA! That’s it! I’m outta here!

BW: WAIT! I was just…oh my. Well, folks…here’s the article.

Article in HAddonfield Sun

 

 

 

Post-Pitch and Back in Action

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been working on a new business pitch at work for the last month and it’s been all-consuming. But…the pitch is over. I’m in the air flying home.

Since the last post, Jack completed his minor league article. Here’s the email I’m sending out to Sport Illustrated for Kids in a few days.

Dear Editor:

I’m writing on behalf on my son, Jack. Jack is 10 years old and a HUGE fan of SI Kids. He reads each issue several times then he cuts out the pages and hangs them up all over his room. He wants to be a sports writer – and has written an article that he is hoping you would consider publishing.

This past summer, Jack wrote every minor league team within 100 miles of us. He asked to come interview players and get tours of the stadiums. So we spent the summer going to lots of games and meeting lots of nice people in the different organizations. Based on all of this, Jack wrote an article called: “The Secret League.”

The article encourages kids not to miss out on minor league baseball games. Jack goes on to list 8 reasons why minor league games are terrific. The article is 643 words and he wrote the entire thing himself. Our hope is that you may be interested in Jack’s article; we thought it would be great for the start of baseball season. The text of the article is below.

We also took photos of our experiences on my boss’s high-end camera. (Jack’s little brother was our photographer). We thought you may want to use these with the article as well.

Please let me know if you have any interest. Jack worked very, very hard on this project. He would lose his mind to be in your magazine or on your website.

We will keep you posted on the response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latest on Jack’s Article

Jack is off from school this week so I took a day of Thursday to work on Jack’s minor league baseball article. You may recall that our first work session was at a bar. This time we chose Starbucks.

Let the record show that a bar is a far better place to work than a Starbucks. At Starbucks, both boys got a big strawberry smoothie drink, which cost $6 each and got them both all sugared up. Then we had to sit at a crowded table. There were moms with loud kids, people on the phone – it sucked.

A bar costs the same. They eat wings instead of sugar. More room. Quieter.

But all that said…the article is in damn good shape. Still needs a title and needs to be checked for errors. But, here it is:

NEED A TITLE

By Jack Nuckols

I love the Majors, but ever think what happens behind the scenes? And where players like Robinson Cano or Miguel Cabrera developed? The Minor Leagues of course! But since everyone is going to the Major League, this league is overlooked. It’s the same game. There are still home runs and RBIs. Great plays and 7th Inning Stretches. But in some ways the Minors are better.

1. Getting Autographs

Ever think about getting autographs? Well you are probably out of luck at Major League Parks. But in the Minors it’s different. The players are a lot nicer and there is not a lot of people trying to push each other over to get autographs. I got at least 60 signatures including a baseball signed by all the Wilmington Blue Rocks players.

2. Fun Events

Of course you know about Mascots, but in the Minors it’s not just Mascots. I’ve seen people try and land foam airplanes on a target and people dress up as giant eyeballs and race! Fans get to do weird and cool events between innings.

3. Fun Team Names

I could write a 20 page list of the funniest sports team names and all of it would minor league teams! Here’s some names: Montgomery Bicuits, Fort Wayne Tin Caps, Savannah Sand Gnats, and the New Orleans Zypers! Why root for these teams? Well, isn’t fun to say Go Biscuit or Way to go Sand Gnats!

4. Cheaper Seats

Here’s a big reason, say your mom wont let you go to a Majors game. Why not ask you mom to let you go to a Minor league game. Put it this way: great seats at a Major League game are 200$ a ticket. In the Minors great seats are 12$ a ticket. MLB average ticket costs $27.00. The MiLB average ticket costs $7.00. What is the chance your mom will let you go to a Minor league game? Pretty good.

5. Future Stars

You can see future stars play in the minor leagues before anybody else does. Two years later you can say to your friends, “I saw him play before any of you.” To write this article, I interviewed 4 players. I hope they make it to the majors.

6. Closer to Home

Say you live in Alabama or Mississippi, you are miles from an MLB park. There are MiLB teams everywhere! In Alabama, there are 4 teams. And if you live in a big city the minors could be a backup for the majors (which you might need). There are 240 minor league teams and only 30 MLB teams. That’s a huge difference!

7. Better Seats

The Majors have 3 decks. On the 3rd deck, people sometimes bring binoculars to see. In the Minors, there is only 1 deck. That means you have a front row seat to everything. I could tell if it was a curveball, breaking ball or fastball!

8. Easier to get baseballs

The seats are empty so you can roam around chasing baseballs. Here is an example: At one game I was standing in the aisle with my glove. A ball went sailing over my head to some rows of empty seats and I ended up getting the ball. See, it’s easier to get baseballs in the minors. And it’s fun too.

Now you know about this “secret” league. It’s the same thing as the majors, sometimes it’s better! So take yourself out to the ball game and see some minor league games!

First Pass at Jack’s Article

This is actually his second draft — and he’ll be continuing to work on it. But this is the product of our project this summer. I typed it and tried to keep all the errors.

NEED A TITLE

By Jack Nuckols

I love the Majors, but ever think what happens behind the scenes? And where players like Robinson Cano or Miguel Cabrea developed. The Minor Leagues of course! But since everyone going to the Major League games this league is overlooked. It’s the same game there is still HR and RBI’s. Great plays and 7th Inning Stretches. But in some ways the Minors are better.

1. It’s Easier to get Autographs

Ever think about getting autographs? Well your probably out of luck at Major League Parks. But in the Minors it’s different. Think of the diffrence. At Major League Parks there’s 40 to 50000 people there. In the Minors 5 to 10,000 people there. I have a minor league bat signed by at least 30 players. All in the Minors.

2. Fun Events

Of course you know about Mascots, but in the Minors it’s not just Mascots. Fans get to do wied and cool events between innings. Sometimes people get foam, toy airplanes and try to land them or they get people to dress up as giant eyeballs and race!

3. Team Names

I could write a 20 page list of the funniest sports team names and all of it would minor league teams! Here’s some names: Montgomery Bicuits, Fort Wayne Tin Caps, Savannah Sand Gnats, and the New Orleans Zypers! Why root for these teams? Well, isn’t fun to say Go Biscuit or Way to go Sand Gnats!

4. Cheaper

Here’s a big reason, say your mom wont let you go to a Majors game. Why not ask you mom to let you go to a Minor league game. Put it this way: great seats at a Major League game are 200$ a ticket at the Minors great seats are 12$ a ticket, and MLB average costs $27.00 and the in MiLB the average ticket costs $7.00. Now what’s the chance difference for your mom to let you go to a MiLB game that a MLB game.

5. See Future Stars

I interviewed 4 players, and you never know 1 of those players could have a lot of success in the majors! So I could say you saw a hall of famer and then 50 years later you could say you saw him play in the MiLB.

6. NO SUB TITLE

Say you live in Alabama or Mississippi, Your Miles from a MLB park, but theres MiLB teams everywhere! in Alabama, 4 to be exact. And if you live in a big city the Minors could be a backup for the majors (which you might need) And the number of MiLB teams and Majors, theres a huge difference (210 difference).

7. Better Seats

The Minors only have 1 deck so when you go there’s a way better view and there’s usely better seats open and you could just move there. And look at Major League parks, There’s 3 decks, nosebleed seats and are really packed. Sometimes in the Majors, in nosebleeds people bring binoculars.

8. NEED SUBTITLE

At one game I was standing in the isle with my glove trying to get a ball. A ball went sailing over my head to empty seat rows back and the guy who got it gave it to me. See it’s easier to get baseball in the minors. The seats are emty so you can roam around chasing baseballs. And it’s fun too.

Now that you know about this “seacret” league, why don’t you open doors and see games there. It’s the same thing as the majors, sometimes it’s better! Now you know what happens behind the scenes you can now go to a lot more baseball games!

Pretty great start, right? I promise that this is all him. Now I just need to get him to fit in the next revision between all his homework and sports.

Where To Start? I Know Just the Place.

So we’ve been to our minor league games and interviewed our players, now it’s time to actually write this article. Our goal is to have it ready by the end of August. Well, it’s one thing to get Jack to head to a baseball game. That’s easy. But to get Jack to write an article during the summer? That’s tough.

It was Saturday and we were hanging out. I’d let him know we were going to send some time working on it. I told him we’d go to Jersey Java, a local coffee shop, and spend a few hours.

But then I got a WAY better idea.

“Yo, Jack. We’re writing a sports article, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So I was thinking: rather than going to a coffee shop, maybe we should go somewhere more sports-ish. You know, order a plate of wings and work. How about…

–ready for this, readers?–

How about…the Tap Room?”

That’s right. To any dad reading this: I am cooler than you are. To any mom: I am cooler than your husband. I took my boys to a bar.

Here are some photos:

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The Tap Room is my favorite local bar. It’s huge and has a great beer selection. We found an empty nook and spread out over two tables. And in all honesty, we had a tremendously productive couple hours.

First we figured out what the main message of the article was: Encourage people to go to minor league games.

Then we listed out a bunch of reasons why minor league games are great:

  • Better seats
  • Cheaper
  • Easy to get autographs
  • Easy to get to
  • Funny team names
  • Get to see future stars

We put each of these on index cards and listed examples and ideas to support each point. So now Jack has to write each point. Which is nice; he can tackle it a small chunk at a time. then once it’s done, we do a bunch of revisions and then try and get it published. Sweet, right? I’ll put his first draft up when he’s done.

Sidenote: You can see in the photo that Alex is reading book 5 of Harry Potter. He has been reading literally 4-6 hours a day the last few weeks and TEARING through these books.

Mr. Celery and Elvis at the Blue Rocks

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Saturday afternoon I took on the “simple” repairs to my grill, which turned out to be a royal pain in the ass. More than an hour in and I was drenched in sweat and covered in grill soot; I finally figured out that they’d sent me the wrong part. I covered the grill, yelled at the kids to get shoes on, showered and rushed off on the drive to Wilmington.

It was the Blue Rocks, class A baseball, we had interviews lined up. Our last one.

The drive up sucked. The kids kept sniping at each other over song selection and singing over each other’s music picks. At one point I did the angry dad “brake stomp” and barked something threatening. Tears ensued. At 3:15 we reached the ballpark and I’m thinking: “Hoo boy, this game doesn’t even start for three hours.”

At the front office we were soon met by Geoff Arnold, the broadcaster for the Blue Rocks. Geoff whisked us up to the press box, told us to hang out, rushed out the door, came back a while later, got halfway through a tour of the room, left again…he really didn’t seem to know how to deal with us.

Still, Geoff’s interview went pretty well. Similar to answers we’ve heard from the broadcast guys we’ve interviewed. And like all of the guys we’ve met, Geoff was a heck of a nice guy.

“Batting practice ends in a bit, then we’ll set you up with a player to interview, I’ll be right back…”

Then he returned with an intern named Ben, and rushed off again. Ben is a junior at Rowan and turned out to be super nice. He talked baseball with Jack, asked Alex nicely to stop climbing things, and finally took us down to the field. The players were coming off the field and a black guy in mirrored glasses comes right up to us.

“Guys, this is Justin Trapp,” said Ben.

Jack shook his hand. Then Alex. Then me. Then Jack again. Then Alex again.

“Should we get out of the sun?” Justin said, and led us all up to the concession area. He found a table with folding chairs. I handed Jack the mini-recorder and the sheet with his questions. Justin took off his glasses and hat. Alex began vulturing with his camera.

I tried describing this interview to Shani the next day. Part of it was that they were sitting down, so they were at eye level – that made a difference. Jack usually looks at the ground and his paper during the entire interview. This one he looked right into Justin’s face the whole time. He spoke clearly and nodded as he heard the answers. Justin gave real answers too, especially when Jack asked him who his hero is.

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Either way, they really connected. Something about Jack really seemed to hit Justin, I think. He seemed somehow invested in Jack and Jack’s project. It was 10 minutes tops, but really something special.

After that, Ben the intern got us our free tickets (!) and we headed into the stands, right behind home plate. Jack took his bat and sharpies and hustled off to get autographs – which at this point he is an expert at. Maybe that should be what the article is about – how to get autographs and snag foul balls. Jack got a TON more signatures and is now mentoring other kids. He was showing some other kids where to stand and loaning them his Sharpie. Some dugout worker even gave Jack a bag of sunflower seeds.

Back at the seats, Alex and I ate a bag of Cracker Jacks that I bought him because Jack refused to share his sunflower seeds. I’m getting to know the ritual and rhythm of the two hours before the game. The players go through their fielding warm ups in the outfield. The season ticket holders (baseball mutants) come in and mingle, chatting with the ushers. The field crew rakes and hoses down the basepath, then paint on the baselines and the strike zones. It’s like a Japanese rock garden – peace. And this time Elvis was blaring over the speakers – it was “Elvis Tribute night”.

Jack returned and we get dinner. The boys got pizza and Dr. Peppers. I got a big beer and peanuts.

The game was awful from the start. The Blue Rocks pitcher seemed to think it was still batting practice. It didn’t help that the first baseman made a series of exaggerated errors. The guy was like a security guard in a Disney movie trying to stop a mob of kids from rushing by him. Every ball would bounce right by him. Bad pitching plus bad fielding make for innings that last way longer than they should.

“This is gonna be a long one, boys,” I sighed.

In the 4th inning we went shopping. I’d told Jack he could get a souvenir from all these minor league games and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. He got himself a nice Blue Rocks hat (with a flat brim – grr) and Alex got…

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[Photo taken the next day.]

“Alex, what the heck is that?”

“It’s Mr. Celery.”

“Stuffed celery.”

“Yes – I’m definitely going to keep him in my carnivore basket.”

“What?”

“I keep my stuffed animals separated between herbivores and carnivores. Mr. Celery definitely has to stay with the carnivores.”

“Are you seriously buying a stuffed celery…ahh..fine!”

I don’t know how, but it somehow, almost imperceptibly, became a good game. The whole thing had been played under the dead weight of being 6 runs behind. After eating their ice cream in the 7th inning, the boys had a big peanut shell fight. They scooped up handfuls and showered each other, and then started shoving them down each other’s backs, laughing wildly the whole time. Suddenly the boys were being nice to each other.

Justin Trapp got up to bat in the 8th inning. Jack stood in the aisle and pretended to be batting as well. Jack would watch the pitch come in and time his imaginary swing with the ball. Jack seemed oblivious to the crowd around him, but they sure weren’t oblivious to him. (You can kind of see it in this photo.)

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Trapp walked, the next guy singled and then a huge double that brought in 2 runs. Suddenly some maniac in celery suit came rushing onto the field and the crowd roared. The Blue Rock’s mascot is a moose, so I didn’t know what the hell this celery guy is about.

Then Alex was bursting out of his seat and holding Mr. Celery high in the air. The boy ran down the steps and then charged down the main aisle, holding his stuffed celery like it was the Olympic torch. The crowd leapt to its feet and went utterly bullshit in response to Alex’s victory lap.

But alas…the Blue Rocks lost. The final score was 8-5, and in spite of the deadly start, the game was still under 3 hours.

“It’s late,” I said to Alex. “Where’s your brother?”

Jack was back down by the dugout leaning out at Justin Trapp. Justin was signing Jack’s hat. Then as Jack rushed over to us I noticed he was holding out a baseball.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Justin Trapp gave it to me. Look…”

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Not only had he gotten Jack a ball. He’d gotten every player on the team to sign it. Needless to say, Jack was beaming.

All the guys we’ve interviewed have been nice, and the Nuckols crew officially wishes they all make it to the big leagues. But right there we decided that not only do we hope Justin Trapp makes it to the big leagues. We hope he is someday the league MVP. We hope he’s in the Hall of Fame someday.

“Technically, I know a player now,” Jack said sheepishly.

“That’s amazing, Jack. You guys ready to get out of here?”

“Nooo!”

“What do you mean?”

“We want to watch the concert. We want to stay up late!”

“It’s an Elvis impersonator.”

“We love Elvis! We want to stay up late!”

It was dark now and we moved over to a spot in the bleachers where the remaining crowd was gathering to watch the show. Then out rolls a John Deere tractor towing a stage with the giant letters: E-L-V-I-S. And you know what happened from there.

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You could not have asked for a more perfect night. I had one of my boys on each side of me leaning against me. The raised highway of route 95 goes across left field and the skyline of Wilmington is in right. And an Elvis impersonator was right there shimmying and jiggling and singing his heart out. Minor league baseball at its absolute, picture-perfect best.

“We do find ourselves in some crazy situations, don’t we boys?”

So…I thought that was the ending. Fadeout to Elvis — the perfect finale to our tour of minor league parks. I could feel it as the ending. But I was wrong.

Elvis went long. Way long. The guy played over 75 minutes, and the boys refused to leave until it was over. On the drive home they got snippy with each other again, until Alex konked out. At 11:45 I finally got them home. Alex crawled into bed and fell asleep with one flip-flop on. Then I went in to say good night to Jack. In the dark room he spoke.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said. His voice was quiet.

“For what?”

“Thanks for helping me with this project. Thanks so much.”

And then his arms got around my neck like Venus Flytrap. (Shit, I’m even a little choked up as I write this.)

“Thanks so much, Dad.”

Hmm. We’ll see if he’ll still be thanking me once we start writing this article.

Now we’re done.

Lakewood Blueclaws and Unbearable Heat

HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT melting molten crotch-chafing HOT

That’s what the day was like. And we were off to Lakewood, NJ where the Phillies single-A team, the BlueClaws, play ball. We’d set up more interviews for Jack’s writing project.

We arrived at 4:30 and met with Greg Giombarese, the broadcaster and media guy for the team. He led us down to the hall outside the locker room, and then brought out 2 pitchers for Jack to interview.

Both the guys were terrific. They fist-bumped Alex and shook Jack’s hand. Maybe because it’s single-A ball that the players are young and enthusiastic – don’t know. But man, were these guys both nice to my boys. Kevin Walter and Geoff Broussard were their names and I wish both of them great success.

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We then interviewed Greg, our host. When we were done, he went up to the office and get us free tickets to the game. The boys both ducked into the stadium store because it was air-conditioned.

The stadium itself was really nice. Every seat is a good one and I let the boys wander around. Wherever they were I could always see them from my seat. The stadium is right near the Jersey Shore so there were seagulls in the air and dragonflies flitting around the seats. The outfield is ringed by a grassy hill where people can sit on blankets – there are even giant lifeguard chairs out there that you can sit in and watch the game from up high.

But dear Lord was it ever hot. Hot and humid beyond belief. We asked an usher about autographs:

“From about 6:00 to 6:45 is the best time. Lemme see your tickets…you’re in section 105 – sun should be off you by about the 6th inning.”

As he spoke it occurred to me that the game didn’t start for another hour and a half and then we had a 3-hour game to sit through. This was more than a baseball game; it was a battle for survival against the heat.

Jack took his bat and headed right into a crowd of kids trying to get autographs. He’s normally a somewhat timid kid, but he got right in there and wriggled himself a spot up front. He’s really gotten good at getting autographs. He’s not afraid to call out to players and ask them to sign. In the next half hour, Jack got himself a solid 20 signatures. It was actually funny. For the rest of the game every Blueclaw batter that came to the plate, Jack would say: “I got him.”

Jack got the bat in 2009 when a player gave it to him after a game (Carlo Testa of the Arkansas Naturals). It was amazing. Over time he’s collected at least 30 autographs on the thing. But what’s funny is that he hasn’t recorded any names of who signed. It could have been Alex’s 1st grade class signing the bat and no one would be the wiser, but Jack loves the thing.

It was “Kids Eat Free” day, so the boys each got their soda, hot dog, and chips. I got a titanic beer for $9 and a bag of peanuts. I chugged half the beer in one gulp to quench my thirst. As the game started, I opened the bag of peanuts and offered them to the people behind me. We settled into the game as best we could, all three of us squirming in the heat.

The game had a great vibe to it. The crowd was friendly and making fun comments to one another. The players were doing all the little things right. They ran like hell for first base even when it was a sure out, they warmed up in the batters box with intensity and focus, the infielders fired the ball around the infield between innings.

Jack didn’t sit with us at all. He was like a 10th fielder and he would position himself in the rows of the stadium wherever he thought a foul ball was most likely to go. The boy’s gotten damn good at knowing where to be too.

In the second inning a ball came into the stands just a few rows behind him and some old guy managed to grab it. But two minutes later Jack came rushing to me, holding up a ball.

“How’d you get that?”

“On TV if a grown-up gets a ball and doesn’t hand it to a kid people boo. If he hands it to a kid people clap.”

Brilliant. Jack had stared down the old guy until the man had no choice but to hand over the ball.

In the 3rd inning Alex announced: “I’m just going to go see how much lemonade is,” and rushed off. Minutes later he returned with ice cubes in each fist which he rubbed over his neck and inside his elbows.

After lemonade in the 4the, we got water ice in the 6th. They were $5.75 each and in cups as big as ice-tea glasses, but it kept the boys busy for 2 innings. Jack ate one-handed (his glove was on his other hand) in a seat right near the home dugout where he could beg the batboy to toss him foul balls.

Alex and I sat together and he chattered away. I love that kid. He’s so funny and thoughtful. He told me his theories about lemonade and ice cream in his stilted rhythm:

“I like lemonade [breath] because at first it tastes sweet [breath] and then at the end [breath] it tastes sour.”

“With ice cream, [breath] I like the strange flavors at first [breath], but by the end [breath] I don’t think they taste as good.”

The sun finally went down and the sky turned orange. Alex took the camera, leaned back, and took a good 25 shots straight up at the sky.

And I hate to admit it, but I started to find myself thinking: “I’m a little sick of baseball right now.” Hard to admit, but it’s true.

I’ve been to 8 games already this season and we’re only at the halfway point. I’ve sat through 25 little league games as well. That’s way more than I’ve ever done. Plus the scoreboard didn’t work so I couldn’t keep score. And above all, I was melting in the heat.

We’ve got the Wilmington Blue Rocks on the 26th – interviews are all set up and then we’re done with our tour. And I’m eager to be at that finish line. I’m also eager to dig in with Jack and help him write his article; I think it’s going to be terrific.

OK…two things before I finish up.

1)    Over the course of the game, here are all the words I wrote down to describe the heat:

  • Neck-rashing
  • Cotton-candy-crumbling
  • Ice-begging
  • Sink-shower-inducing
  • Collar-soaking
  • Water-ice-liquifying
  • Hat-darkening
  • Sock-cursing

2)    Here are a few selects out of the 330 photos Alex took.

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“His head is peeking over Jack’s head.”

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“He’s thinking about Jack’s question.”

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“Jack’s back.”

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“The mascot’s nose is like a baseball. Kind of.”

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“I like how he’s swinging the bat here.”

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“The sky.”

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“Sky.”

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“The sky.”

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“Sky. I took one every inning.”

Three Generations of Baseball Fandom

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I was hounding John Sadak, the media guy for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders – but it wasn’t going to happen. Then at 2:05 my phone rings.

“Hey, this is John Sadak.”

“Holy crap!” I shouted into the phone.

He said we were in for an interview, but we had to get there by 5:00. Jack was at the pool, Shani was watching a TV show, we weren’t packed, I needed gas, and GoogleMaps had it as taking 2:34 to get to the stadium. GO!

We scrambled, randomly throwing any possible item of interest into the trunk, calling the pool, yelling at everyone to move it. We were on the road at 2:55, and I drove way faster than my usual 71 mph. No traffic, no cops…at 4:55 we pulled into the parking lot at the stadium. John Sadak came to the front gate to let us in.

This was our second interview, and it went even better than the first. Jack shook John’s hand and mumbled his name in a way that was audible. Alex did the same. John took us to the press box, the radio broadcast booth, and the TV broadcast center. Alex took a photo of every individual knob or switch on each piece of equipment while Jack ran through his questions. He was much smoother and more comfortable this time.

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(Notice that Alex is taking a photo of a computer monitor off to the side.)

John is the “Voice of the Railriders” and every time he answered a question I was struck at how clear and fluid he sounded. He made an explanation of a water main break that happened sound like an edge-of-your-seat play. He was great with Jack. Then he took us back to the press box.

“I’ve gotta go now, but you guys are welcome to stay in here as long as you like. Only two writers are going to be here, so the back row is totally free.”

My eyes got way bigger. Ahead was a view right behind home plate. Behind us they were setting up tables of nachos and sandwiches. John was going to let us watch the game from there. I thought of Shani sitting in the hot parking lot reading and waiting for us to come get her. My Dad and his wife, Mary, were on their way. My mind was like a rat sniffing around for a way out of a trap.

OK…so just keep in mind how good these seats would have been. This photo shows the view.

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We grabbed Shani and brought her into the stadium. We were the first people in.

The park is PNC Field, and it’s the Yankees AAA team (closest to major league). They rebuilt the stadium last year, so it’s brand new. The stadium is gorgeous and gleaming white and blue. They nestled it right up against a hillside, so there are shale cliffs ringing the outfield. It feels different than most minor league stadiums. It doesn’t have the small-town sweetness most other fields have. This stadium feels big and polished. Commercial. It’s like a tiny version of a major league ballpark.

We headed for our seats…and here begins the trouble.

First, my rationale for the seats I chose. Normally, front row seats are ideal. Alex is not stuck behind a tall person. The boys can race after foul balls and easily high-five the mascot. This was not an un-informed decision.

But in this particular case, my seat selection was not good.

At PNC Field, front row seats are level with the field. And there is a 4-foot wall in front of you. We were way down the third-base line and the batter was way off to the right.

Shani immediately recognized these seats as poor.

“Why did you pick these seats? The boys can’t see a thing. I can’t see either.”

OK…my eternal baseball battle is for Alex. Jack and I could sit and watch a baseball game balanced on top of the foul pole. But I’m always working to make sure Alex enjoys the game. Part of this is NOT ADMITTING OUT LOUD THAT THE SEATS STINK.

My Dad showed up. We exchanged a hug and then…

“You have to learn to pick seats that are above the action.”

I raced to guest services to try and switch the seats, but it was a sold out game because of 4th of July fireworks. I slunk back to our seats and was thrilled to see that the entire section next to us was empty.

“Ooh. Let’s move up there,” I said.

“We’re going to get thrown out when the real seat-holders get here,” Shani said.

“Is a whole section going to arrive? We can just move. The game starts in 5 minutes. We’re good.”

She wasn’t moving, so I grabbed the boys and we went up to scope it out. We found seats 10 rows up with a great view and no one around us in the entire section. I waved down at Shani, who was sitting next to my Dad. It was at that exact moment that the announcer came over the speakers.

“Please rise for the singing of our national anthem.”

Shani looked over at my Dad sitting next to her, and then spun and gave me a big “here we go” smile.

OK…time out. Some background on my dad.

  • Point 1: My dad LOVES to sing. He has a booming baritone voice and has been in choirs and singing groups his entire life.
  • Point 2: My dad is entirely un-phased by social norms.

So while my dad is an atheist, if you happen to be in a church with him and a hymn is playing, he sings. Loudly. In fact he will often sing the harmony parts loud enough to match the rest of the congregation.

If you happen to be at a school musical with my dad and the big finale number comes on, you can expect him to sing right along. Loudly.

If you’re at a ballgame

  • AND you’re mad at your husband
  • AND you’re not happy with your seats
  • AND you don’t really like baseball
  • AND your husband and kids just left you there alone next to my dad
  • AND the Star Spangled Banner begins to play…

“Grampa Harry is singing really loud,” Alex whispered up at me.

Indeed he was. Over the sound of the girl on the microphone, drifting over the entire crowd, with perfect diction and in a glorious baritone, standing right next to Shani, my dad proudly sang every single word of our national anthem.

Just as the anthem ended, about 1000 kids from a summer camp started streaming into the empty section I’d found. The boys and I were booted back to our lousy seats.

The game was a good one. Scranton smashed two home runs in the 2nd inning, which immediately got the crowd into the game. They eventually won 5-2 with good pitching, but the highlight was the outfield play. That was a treat to watch from where we were. It’s one thing to watch a guy run across your TV screen and make a play amidst multiple camera angles. It’s another thing entirely to watch an actual human haul ass full tilt across real distance in front of you and dive just in time to reach a ball. The timing of it makes your heart stop. You can’t help but scream with excitement at what you’ve just seen a person do.

Jack stood the entire game and was especially alert with all lefty batters, hoping a foul ball would shoot our way.

Alex was bored and I had to feed him constantly.

Shani eventually put her feet up on the wall, leaned back and fell asleep with her hair dipped into the beer cup of the man behind her.

Still, it was a perfect night to sit and watch baseball. I had a lot of fun sitting next to my dad and keeping the score sheet together. Score sheets appeal to my dad. It was a quick game and when it ended we were all ready to see some fireworks. Ballparks are terrific places to see fireworks. And while our seats stunk for watching the game, they were perfect to lean back and watch the fireworks go off on top of the hill.

The firework show began…almost directly behind us.

It was an odd circumstance where they were so close that he only saw about half of them, yet we heard them at double the volume. But once we all got up, turned around, and leaned against the wall it was still pretty terrific. Shani tapped my arm and pointed to Alex, who was staring up in awe. We spent the rest of the time watching him watch fireworks.

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I can only imagine how great those fireworks would have been to watch from the press box.

So for those of you keeping score of Jack’s interview project:

Completed:

  • Trenton Thunder
  • Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders

Team we have invitations to come do interviews with:

  • Wilmington BlueRocks
  • Reading Fightin’ Phils
  • Lakewood Blue Claws

Then Jack will write the article in August and hopefully submit it to SI Kids soon thereafter. Oh — and here’s a photo of the Railrider mascot and my dad exchanging a hug.

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Free T-Shirt Day at the Blue Rocks

Tell me if you can think of a better situation than this Sunday:

  • One of my oldest and best friends, Dave Beattie, was coming through on a road trip. He and his two kids (Skyler and Zack) were coming up from DC to stay with us Sunday night.
  • Exactly 45 minutes south of us is the home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks
  • Sunday is Kids Day where admission is $2
  • Before the game are autograph sessions with players and kids are allowed to play catch on the field
  • After the game kids are invited to get on the field and run the bases
  • On top of that, first 1000 fans that day get a free Blue Rock T-Shirt
  • Dave’s kids have NEVER been to a baseball game

So I suggested that we meet at the field, all of us see the game, and then head to my place. Perfect right? I even put extra ice in the freezer so Dave and I could drink gin and tonics on my back porch after the kids go to bed.

But wait…it gets even better. The forecast called for rain, but by the time we reached the park the skies had cleared. This means that not many people will be at the park. Therefore:

  • Getting autographs will be easy
  • There no WAY they’ll run out of shirts
  • Jack and Alex can show Skyler and Zack how to chase down foul balls hit into the stands.

Our seats were actually chosen specifically for this purpose. We were right in the center and along the main aisle, which means the kids can quickly scramble to where a foul ball is hit. With empty stands they are almost guaranteed to get some balls – and my boys know how to run those suckers down.

What that really means is that Dave’s kids will have a great first baseball experience. Believe me, I know sitting and watching baseball is boring as hell for a kid who isn’t into the game. However, watching for fly balls and then racing madly through stands and getting to keep them – THAT is a recipe for uber-fun.

Perfect right?

Well…curve ball in the form of rain. First off, rain made for bad traffic. Which meant we didn’t get there in time for autographs and they weren’t letting kids on the field. We got shirts…but all 1000 of them were XL adult size.

But second off, we had just settled into our seats, gotten food and drinks and popcorn and peanuts…an announcement comes over the loudspeaker:

“Attention…for you safety, all fans please come up to the concourse. We are expecting a storm to come through and we will not be starting on time if at all.”

“YES!” Zack shouted – he did not want to be there at all. “I can control the weather!”

“Let’s go to your house,” Dave said.

“Right on!” I agreed. “We’ll think of this as a $75 lunch.”

And off we went. I was bummed out. All my good-time plans were shot. No baseball, no dinner at the pool, no gin and tonics on the back porch.

Fortunately, the kids were not bummed at all. In fact, they were pretty pumped. Before I knew it they were rushing back and forth through the house dragging every pillow, blanket, and cushion they could find down to the basement where they piled it all into a massive mound.

“You and Dave have to come down and be judges!” Alex demanded. “We’re having a dive meet.”

Indeed they were. Here were the dives Dave and I had to judge:

Slap Butt in the Air
Strange Noise
Spin
Crash Landing
Imitate a Moose
Touch Butt and Nose in Mid-Air
Flat as a Pancake
Act Like You’re Throwing Up

Glorious, yes? Then get this…we were having a snack and Zack commanded: “Now I want it to be sunny!

No lie – half an hour later the skies start to clear up. “To the pool!” we cried and spent a solid hour at the pool before heading out for milkshakes. Tired out, we put the kids down into the basement to watch a movie and then sleep. Dave and I opted for beers (a lot of them, actually) and hung out on the back porch catching up.

This morning we saw the Beatties off. Dave’s one of my best friends and we stay in pretty close touch, but I haven’t seen his kids in a few years. It makes me awfully happy to get a good look at them. Over breakfast Skyler told me stories about getting car sick and throwing up in a CVS parking lot where barf came out her nose. Zack kept running up to where I was sitting, laying down on the floor and kicking his feet at me. I’d try and flick his toes and he’d giggle like a lunatic.

“Hey Zack,” I called as they headed out. “Be sure not to ask for a snow storm on your drive today.” I don’t think he got the joke.

In the end, we still had a great time even if we didn’t get to see a baseball game. But at least the kids all got some nice new dresses.

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