On Wednesday, with a groundout to second, the World Series and 2017 baseball season came to an end.
It marked the end of “Jack Season”.
Which means that “Alex Season” began on Thursday. Or as some call it, “Thor’s Day.”
The Yankee’s season came to an end this weekend with a Game 7 loss to the Houston Astros. The Yanks were a game short of going to the World Series.
From the first pitch it felt like the Astros had all the momentum. The Yanks never came up with a spark. Inning by inning, their chances slowly dimmed until they were extinguished entirely. Jack and I watched it in the living room; me on the couch, him on the love seat. In the 8th inning, I sprawled out on the floor and soon Jack sprawled out next to me. We could feel it coming to an end and we wanted to be near each other for it. We were almost like the old couple in Titanic who lay next to each other as the water fills the cabin.
The end was sad and sweet and filled with a vague emptiness. And I feel comfortable saying that this has been right up there among the most memorable playoffs ever for me. It included the two of us freaking out and jumping all over a parking lot at La Salle University as the Yanks came back from a 4-0 deficit. We FaceTimed from SF to NJ when CC Sabathia crushed the Astros in Game 3.
The old guard is gone. No Jeter, no Rivera, no Texiera. Those guys were all business, stone-faced professionals who went about playing the game “the right way”. And as much as I loved those guys, now that they’re gone, a new group has taken over. Suddenly the Yankees are fun, and jubilant, and enthusiastic, and young.
Jack and I watched them all season – and we saw them go from shaky, inconsistent newbies to a team of studs that came damn close to winning it all. Remarkable.
So, with that said, I present you with:
1) Brett Gardner’s grit
The longest-tenured Yankee, Brett Gardner is their left fielder. He was never a big name player — he was a scrub called up to be the 4th outfielder. But this guy has a tenacity to him that is something amazing to behold.
When Gardner was a freshman in college, he tried out for the baseball team. The coaches felt he wasn’t good enough — but they never actually told him he hadn’t made the team. Sure, they didn’t give him a uniform, but they forgot to actually notify Gardner he’d failed to make it.
Gardner showed up for practice the next day in his high-school uniform.
The man is pure grit. He hacks out 12-pitch at-bats. He hustles out every play. He never lets up for a single second — and he’s gone from marginal player to one of the best players on the team over the last 10 years.
Plus…he looks like MegaMind.
2) CC Sabathia’s Presence
CC Sabathia is a massive man (6′ 6”, 300+ pounds) and eight years ago was one of the best pitchers in the league. He signed with the yankees and anchored a rotation that won the World Series in 2009.
But he has struggled in the last few years. Like many pitchers, he started to wear down. His fastball went from 97 to 92, and hitters were able to clobber it. His knees started to fail. Then in 2015, he checked himself into a rehab facility for alcohol abuse.
Most pitchers are done at this point. But CC started to come back. Over 2017 he made that incredible transformation from a pitcher that wins on raw stuff to a pitcher that wins on guile and deception and preparation. He was terrific this year and in the playoffs.
Like Gardner, CC is a player who has shown himself to be a real role model. I love him. Jack loves him. The whole Yankees Universe loves him.
3) Didi Gregorius’s tweets
Did Gregorius took over at short-stop from Derek Jeter and never once has he tried to replace the legendary captain. Didi made no attempt to be the stone-faced leader. Instead, he is a goofball. He’s fun. He smiles. He jokes in the dugout. He scratches out great at-bats; he has a cannon for an arm, and best of all…he tweets after every game. He has emoticons for each players on the team that make little to no sense, but man are they fun as hell.
4) Greg Bird’s eyebrows
Greg Bird is a rookie and the first baseman of the future for the Yankees. He is an elite defender. He has an amazing eye at the plate. He hits huge homers.
But his best feature:
Look at those things! Glorious. And they are at first base for years to come.
5) Thumbs down
In early September, the Yankees beat the Rays 5-1. One fan was not amused.
Overnight, the Yankees adopted the thumbs down sign as their own. Hit a double? Thumbs down. Great catch in the outfield? Thumbs down. There were shirts, posters, memes — it was just awesome.
6) The Toe-night show
The Yanks back-up infield is a guy named Ronald Torreyes. And sometime during the season, whenever a player hit a home run, he and some of the other guys would grab a bunch of stuff in the dugout, pretend they were a film crew, and interview the guy who hit the home run.
Absolutely stupid. Lots of fun. Certainly not something that would have happened with Jeter around.
And of course…
7) Aaron Judge
He is the largest position player in the history of the game (6’7”, 282 pounds) — the guy is humongous.
He hit .173 last year and was a rookie no one expected be very good.
He blasted 52 home runs this year, to unseat the loathsome Mark McGuire for most HRs by a rookie.
He won this year’s Home Run Derby by a landslide.
He will win Rookie of the Year unanimously and come in 2nd in voting for MVP.
He shattered a TV screen in a bar in centerfield and dented an aluminum door in the outfield of the Rogers Center.
He has handled the attention with a big smile and a lot of humility.
He made the season sooooo damn fun for me and Jack.
Oh…and I should also mention…he’s with the Yankees until 2023.
The 2017 season is almost over — and the Yankees are officially done. This year we went to Kauffman Stadium in KC, Coors Field in Colorado, and finished it with a magical day in Camden Yards with Shani’s folks (our stadium visits are at their peak when it is all 6 of us). This year is about to become part of our family history — part of my personal history with my son, Jack. And the 2017 Yankees, with their terrific season and magical post-season, will never be forgotten by either one of us.
Last night the Yankees beat the Indians in a winner-take-all game to advance in the playoffs. For 4 innings, the Yankees were ahead 3-2 and it felt like the Indians were going to come back the whole time.
Jack declared, “This is the most stressed I’ve ever felt.”
Then in the 8th inning, Brett Gardner had a 12-pitch at bat and finally knocked in 2 runs.
Jack leaped in joy, then collapsed in relief.
I believe this photo says it all.
If you’re looking for a two-day, one night backpacking trip – this is the perfect option. But be warned…day one is 6.5 miles and climbs 1945 feet of total elevation.
If you’re looking for a companion, this is the perfect candidate. He is an experienced packer, in great physical shape, makes good decisions, and is terrific fun to hang out with.
This is the perfect reaction when you reach the Matthews Arm trail and you realize it’s all downhill from there.
This is the perfect spot to refill your water. (Note: don’t listen to your dad when he says you can do better. You’ll end up doing an extra 2 miles that day just to come back to this spot.)
This is the perfect spot to overlook the Shenandoah Valley.
This is the perfect camp site. Note the view. Also note that when it gets dark, you can see a sky stuffed with stars above and a dark valley stuffed with blinking fireflies below.
This is the perfect meal after you’ve packed 8.4 miles/2465 feet of elevation in a single day.
This is the perfect tent. The top half is open screen, so you see the sky and shapes of trees above you. You hear owls hooting. You feel the breeze. You can lay there with your son and sort all your friends and family into Harry Potter houses.
This is the perfect place to stop for a break at the end of your second day.
This is the perfect place to stop for victory burgers, which should absolutely be your tradition after you come out of the woods after a packing trip. (Horseshoe Curve Restaurant, Bluemont, VA)
This is the perfect mix for your ride home. Alex put it together. Two notes about your ride home.
OK…here’s the official Harry Potter sorting.
Our immediate family
West Coast Friends
Cast of Friends
|Captain America||Gryffindor (textbook)|
This blogpost is about my family reunion. I considered sharing it privately, but then it occurred to me that my family makes up 40% of the audience. So…come along with me to Lincolnton, Georgia and the Nuckols Family Reunion. (Or if you don’t care about my family reunion, I totally understand if you bail on this post.)
It was 750 miles. Shani, Alex, and I hit the road with a stop in Durham to see friends and do some hiking. We arrived the next day at my Aunt Helen’s massive manor – home base for the reunion. There was hugging, eating, catching up. Alex disappeared with his cousins. We lined up for a huge buffet with roast beef and mashed potatoes and grilled jalepeno peppers wrapped in bacon.
My cousin, Max, had bought 100 bucks in fireworks from “Three Fingered Freddy’s” on the South Carolina border, and he set them off in the driveway while kids zipped around on scooters and parents fretted about safety.
We migrated to my Aunt Margo’s house where my Uncle Coddy broke out his guitar. I love his songs, but it struck me as a little sad that it was only him singing. Coddy, Margo, and my father used to play together in the 60s as The Nuckols Trio. They had a regular song list that was a mainstay of reunions when I was a kid. My dad hadn’t even brought his guitar along, so it was just Coddy – which was still pretty fantastic.
The next morning, my Aunt Mary offered to host breakfast at the house she was staying at, but by the time we made it there they were packing up to move to Aunt Helen’s house. So we all migrated with them and bumbled around in Helen’s huge family room.
And I’m going to stop here and make a confession: I was feeling really off at this point. I struggle sometimes because I get so insanely excited for things and then have trouble when reality doesn’t line up. That was the case here.
“Shani, I want to run out and try and buy a new bike chain.”
“Yeah, there’s not that much going on and…”
“Oh,” she said. “OK. I’ll come with you.”
She saw what was going on with me. She always does. She probably saw it coming before we ever left New Jersey.
So here’s the deal…these reunions have shifted. Some kind of tipping point has been reached and it has changed the composition and the cadence. I ascribe this to two main factors:
1) We’ve grown
Long gone are the days when we could all stay in a single house in Albany like we did when I was a kid. Now we’re spread across 10 different houses. When we gather for a meal, we fill up nine 12-foot folding tables. It’s overwhelming to me. I find myself faced with 40+ people that I want to catch up with and only a few days to pull it off. I’m hopping from one conversation to the next like I’m speed dating, trying to check off all the relatives from a giant to-do list.
2) We’ve reproduced
Me and most of my cousins now have kids of our own. Which means the place is littered with rug-rats. Everyone (myself included) is constantly being pulled away to deal with pleading for another can of soda or screaming from fire ant bites.
In truth, it’s not just one reunion. Each family has siblings and kids having their own individual reunion. And all that together makes up our extended family reunion.
Shani and I talked all this out on our drive.
We got back to the Baldwins and there were a few folks milling around. My niece, Brinda, was there and someone suggested a game of Old Maid, which is my opinion is about the lamest card game there is.
My opinion has since been revised.
The game was intensely awesome. It was filled with bluffing, insults, jeering. The tension was thick and wonderful. 10-year-old Brinda was in her glory playing with eight adults. The game was so fun it actually drew a crowd.
Dinner was a buffet of leftovers and people just sort of sat where they could find room. I ended up around a small table swapping stories with my cousins about nightmare stays in motels.
Shani and I slipped out to go to the Kites and within 30 minutes everyone seemed to have the same idea. My Aunt Helen wanted to hear a new song my Uncle Coddy had written, so he broke out his guitar for the second night in a row. Soon everyone was grabbing chairs from all over the house to form a huge circle around the living room. Coddy played a few originals, and then without saying anything he went into the sing-a-long repertoire. The floor in the center was suddenly filled with kids as we sang The Fox, Eddie-Cucha-Cacha-Camma, Tom Dooley, Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.
Then my Aunt Margo was singing.
As I have travelled all over this land
There is just one sad thing that I find
When the wide road calls you must leave friends and all
Leaving a song behind
For a while
Leaving a song behind
Aunt Margo has a husky alto voice that I believe to be the universal voice of warm, smiling aunts everywhere. She was singing the first verse of “One for the Money” which is the song that The Nuckols Trio always closed with.
She went into the chorus….
One for the money
And from the room, the voices of my father and Uncle Coddy answered…
Sing for a penny
Two for the show
Any song that we know
Three to make ready
The wide road is pretty
And four to go
It’s been good to know ya’
And four to go
We’ve a long way to go
And I was crying. My family was stuffed into a huge ring. I saw Alex cuddled on Shani’s lap.
Then came the second verse. Oh, that verse. The second verse is and has always been the fundamental tenant of my family. It is literally one of the core lessons of my life.
Some value money and some value fame
Some value women and wine
But a song and a friend ‘round each turn of the bend
Are the riches I’d rather were mine
Riches I’d rather were mine
Family reunions are funny things. On one side, they are about the past. You are repeating something you did as a kid. Family reunions are some of my brightest, best memories from childhood. Your family is who you are – so these reunions were central to how I thought about myself.
But at the same time, reunions are about the passing of time. You’re checking in and seeing what has changed since the last reunion.
It’s weird. And it’s wonderful once your wife and your niece help you get your head out of your ass.
The final verse goes like this…(try and hear it in your mind as a husky alto)
When I am gone may this song linger on
And its echo fall soft on your ear
May your riches increase and you all live in peace
And your happiness grow every year
Happiness grow every year
I will first draw your attention to the change in title. For this episode, we are NuckolBRAWL. And for this NuckolBrawl tale, I bring you back to Christmas morning of 2016. The family is in the living room, around the tree, taking turns opening presents. Things are joyful and sweet. Shani has just unwrapped the scarf that Alex knit her.
Suddenly, a realization strikes Jack Nuckols:
“Wait! I’ve got presents!”
On the last day of school before holiday break, Jack and his two friends had gone downtown to buy presents. Jack spent the afternoon and evening out with his pals getting gifts. They even went to dinner at the Chinese place when they were done. I thought it was such a nice idea. I was proud of him. The thought of it warmed my heart.
So back to Christmas morning…
“Wait! I’ve got presents!”
Jack grabbed his backpack and began rummaging around inside it.
“I didn’t wrap anything, but that’s OK, right? Hang on…this is for…”
He pulled out a small cellophane bag and peeked inside.
“Oh wait! That’s my egg roll. OK…here we go.”
He pulled out gifts for each of us:
Oh dear God, no.
I stared in horror.
You could feel the floor crumbling away beneath the entire room. It was like a sand castle slurped away by a wave.
Jack had given his mother a green folder as her holiday gift. It had cost him 99 cents at the most – his egg roll had cost him more. It was a gift of monumental thoughtlessness.
When it comes to things like this, I have an internal debate. Do you let it go and forego the drama to follow? Do you laugh it off and let Christmas go on.
Shani had no such debate. She retreated to our bedroom and a fog of gloom descended upon the world. Jack grew sullen and withdrawn.
And with that, Christmas was ruined.
But could it be salvaged?
Could this man save Christmas?
I made the first attempt. I went up to our room and consoled Shani. I talked to Jack and told him how badly he’d hurt his mother’s feelings. I went back and forth like the moderator for disarmament talks between warring countries. I finally got Jack to go up to our room and talk to Shani.
Two minutes later he came storming back downstairs.
Could these two save Christmas?
An hour later, Shani came back downstairs. She sat on the couch in a sad slump. I called up to Jack and asked him to come down for a second. I said that had to show him something. As soon as he was halfway down the steps…
“Dad and I are going for a walk.”
Alex and I grabbed our coats and shot out the door.
We lapped the block slowly. Fifteen minutes later, we came back and poked out heads in. Shani and Jack were sitting silently on opposite ends of the couch. Both were curled up like pillbugs.
“Let’s do another lap.”
We did two laps this time. The final result…
Could the Mulvihills save Christmas?
That afternoon, the Mulvihills came over for happy hour. It’s a tradition our families share each year. We get together on Christmas for happy hour and then go out for Chinese food.
I figured that Shani couldn’t possibly keep up the gloom with friends over. She’d have to put on a good face for guests.
Could the George Michael save Christmas?
After a semi-stilted happy hour, we headed to Philly for dinner. In past years we’d done Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean BBQ. This year we took it up a notch and rented a private karaoke room in Chinatown.
So picture the scene. 4 adults (one of them emitting a fog of gloom). 4 tweens (2 boys, 2 girls). It’s not a recipe for uninhibited fun.
We were doing some lame signing when suddenly our phones lit up with news alerts: George Michael had died.
Next thing we knew, the moms were belting out Careless Whisper, Father Figure, and more. This was a moment of unity. George Michael had gone so suddenly. Who has time to dwell on bad things? Live to the moment! Enjoy each other now!
But the tweens just looked at us with disdain and embarrassment. Before long we were struggling to keep the fun going.
Then things went from bad to worse. I looked to see that “Hello” by Adele was next. My thought: worst possible song. It’s slow-paced and hard to sing. Plus it’s sad as hell. What could be a worse choice?
The first verse came out as a mumbled dirge. Then the music swelled into the chorus and suddenly…
“Hello from the OUT SIIIIIIIIDDDE! I must HAVE CALLED A THOUSAND TIIIIIIMES!”
Everyone was belting it out. All the kids. Both moms. My friend Geoff. People were smiling and laughing at each other. Everyone was letting it roar at full volume. I looked across the room and Shani and Jack were singing into the same microphone with all their might. More sushi arrived. We put the song on again and performed an encore. Our waitress brought a tray heavy with Sapporo beers and cans of Sprite.
Yes folks, the green folder was forgotten. Adele had saved Christmas.
So…NuckolBall. There’s a problem. Check this out…
Alex and I drove up to Binghamton last weekend for the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. On the drive up, we had the most incredible damn conversation. I still can’t believe we went there. It was bold and unexpected and would make a wild story about parenting. A perfect post for NuckolBall.
But Alex asked me not to talk about it with anybody.
See, the fact is, I’ve been struggling for relevance here. There used to be an obvious tension and wonder in my life as a dad. But life has gone from helping my boys figure shit out, to sitting on the sidelines as they figure shit out for themselves. I’m not so much in the know.
This is full on Parenting Phase 2. The transition is over; it’s here.
It’s nice in a lot of ways. Shani and I have way more time on our hands. We slip out to grab a drink together all the time now. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in 10 years. Shani’s leading the South Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action.
But when it comes to NuckoBall, it’s been a little tough. So…I’m going to try and embrace the situation. Adapt. Which means get ready for some real-deal Parenting Phase 2 posts.
Loosely outlining, I expect to write about:
I’ll come up with some more stuff as I go. But stick with me. This is some funny stuff.
Fact 1: It rained today.
Fact 2: The rain resulted in Jack’s baseball game being cancelled.
Fact 3: Shani and I took advantage of this surprise opening to ditch the kids and make it over to the Tonewood Brewery. We got seats at the bar and ordered 2 Feugos, which are vaguely bitter and vaguely citrusy. They are delicious in my book and highly drinkable.
Fact 4: Shani and I have been married for 17+ years.
Fact 5: I am legitimately crazy about my wife. I can confidently say that I’m more in love with her now than I have ever been. We have so much damn fun together. Our day to day life is genuinely romantic. Shani is 46 years old, and I honestly think she is more beautiful today than she’s ever seemed to me.
Fact 6: We returned home in time to catch the Yankees game, where they beat the Pirates.
Fact 7: I watched the game with Jack.
Fact 8: All is right in the world.
Alex and I were hanging out the other weekend and I mentioned it was almost April.
“Blah,” he said. “It’s almost time for me not to like you.”
“What?” I asked.
“Baseball season. All you and Jack want to do is sit and watch boring baseball. All you talk about. This guy did blah blah blah. That guy is blah blah. And oh my gosh he blah blah blah.”
And it occurred to me: where most people’s lives have four seasons, my life has only two.
And I’ll tell ya’ – this Alex Season has been a magical one. We’ve gone hiking almost every weekend, chattering away about managing friendships, countries we’d like to go to, how he’s planning to deal with peer pressure about drugs (he brought this up). We’ve snuggled on the couch and re-watched most of the Marvel movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars re-watching. On a snow day we got through both Terminator 1 and 2 (although we skipped the sex scene in 1).
Jack has no interest in movies (unless its bedtime). He usually turns down an invitation to go hiking because he’d rather hang with his friends. And when he does hike with us, he spends a lot of time making sure we all know he hikes faster than Alex.
But in a little more than a week…
Jack Season! We will watch the opening day game together (Yanks vs Rays). We’ll talk highlights. We’ll plot out our trips for the year (Baltimore plus a couple other contenders).
But I’m sure Alex and I will slip in a hike or two.
Here are some highlight shots from Alex Season.
I begin with ALEX.
He is at an incredible age. The perfect age. He is young enough so he wants to hang out with me all the time. He is old enough to take hiking and have great conversations. We’ve gone hiking together every weekend the last month and spent hours talking about countries he wants to visit. We snuggle on the couch and are making our way through Arrow on Netflix.
But there is a downside.
When a show ends he reaches over and clamps onto me like a dog with a bone. “You’re not leaving!” he squeals. He’s like a human bear trap. CLANK!
He will follow me from room to room. If I go in the kitchen, within minutes he is sitting in there with me. He chatters away and asks he if he can help me chop vegetables.
I’ll announce, “I’m going to the gym” and he’ll immediately say, “no you’re not.” Then he’ll spend the next 15 minutes asking why I need to go and can’t I stay with him.
At least once a day during the weekend I’ll snap at him: “ALEX, for God’s sakes! Give me some space!”
But for the most part, I’m reveling in it. I’m trying to take as much as I can get, because I know what will happen when he gets a little older…
Which bring me to JACK.
First off, Jack has stopped using consonants when he speaks to me or Shani. He mumbles under his breath like those “buds buds” guys selling drugs on the street.
I’ll be reading on the couch. He’ll come down in a hoodie (always a hoodie).
This translates to: “Dad, let’s go.”
I often don’t hear him.
“Cummahdalesco.” (“Come on, Dad. Let’s go.”)
And when the boy is gone, he is gone. I’ll drop him at the gym where town basketball games are played. Doesn’t matter if he’s playing or not. He’ll run the scoreboard or do whatever. He and his hoodied crew will go downtown and buy bulk candy at CVS. They’ll play football at the middle school. They’ll wander to each other’s houses, flop onto the couches, turn on the TV, and then all stare at their phones.
He’s got a group of about 10 boys that join up, separate, and re-join in various groups in various places. They’re like a weird group of amoeba forming and reforming in different configurations. Sometimes I’ll come home and find them draped on my couches.
“Cayooorerapieceorsumthee?” (“Can you order a pizza or something?”)
But he’s a clever boy. He’s lost his power to speak, but he’s still finding ways to communicate with me. Last weekend, I drove him to the gym. He turned on the radio to my classic rock station and started signing along with Pink Floyd.
“Aha!” I thought. He’s trying to send me a message through this radio. He’s showing me he knows the words to classic rock and he’s doing it for my approval. There’s still a human in there trying to communicate! He’s in there!
I got to the basketball gym and he hopped out of the car before I’d even fully stopped.
“Jack!” I called after him.
He took a step back towards the car.
“Can you come back for a second?”
“Come back. Sit.” He got in, completely impatient.
It was my turn to not communicate.
“What do you want, dad?”
I sat there.
“Dad! What! I need to…Oh…”
“Thank you for the ride.”
He was off.
“Love you!” I called.
“Love you too!”
Then he was gone.