It breaks your heart

“It breaks your heart. It was designed to break your heart.”

That’s the opening of Bart Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind.” It’s an essay about the end of the season that talks about how baseball promises to suspend time, and how every year you believe it can, only to have it betray you.

“You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

God, it’s beautiful. Each night this season there was a game on, and I’d watch a few innings. Each morning I could see the standings and watch the highlights. Each day’s drive was the Baseball Tonight podcast and Talkin’ Yanks. And through it all was Jack. The texts between us were so magic.

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My favorite came in the summer. I was camping in Utah and out of cell range. When I came back to civilization, I got this:

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Going to ballparks started early this season and never slowed down. We started with a trip to Spring Training where Jack and the lady behind the counter badgered me into upgrading to a corvette.

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“I’m sorry. And you’re welcome,” Jack said when I finally caved.

In April we shot down to Baltimore to see the Yankees pummel the Orioles. Jack got Aaron Judge’s autograph before the game, and then for the length of all 9 innings, everything in the world was perfect. The usher let us go down into the field-level seats. Everyone sitting near us was friendly and in a great mood. I could feel the baseball smiling down on me like sunshine.

In July we had our sights set on an overnight flight to finally make it to Wrigley. Shani and Alex were at a dive meet in California, so the timing was perfect. But flights to Chicago were crazy expensive. So we drove instead, orchestrating a 3-day/3-ballpark road trip.

Detroit…The sunset lit the entire sky into an electric yellow glow and Jack stared out at the park the way that only Jack can stare out at a ballpark.

Chicago…Finally we made it to Wrigley and it not only lived up to the hype, it shattered expectations. That park and those people and that game all nestled into the hot, dense streets of the city.

Cleveland…Chomping mustard-smeared bratwurst while we watched the game under the shade of the right field wall.

In Detroit, a 4-time survivor of breast cancer sang the National Anthem. In Chicago, a shrunken WWII vet blared the anthem out on a trumpet. Then in Cleveland, a 12-year-old girl sang the anthem in that pure and clear voice that only 12-year-olds have. And at some point in there, I felt a stir of pride that I haven’t felt in 2+ years.

But the coup de grace came at the end of the season. It was late September, and I figured we were done. Then I got this text…

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From minute one I knew what he wanted, and I knew I’d say yes. Playoff tickets to Yankee Stadium.

I watched ticket prices climb and dip until one morning the exact seats I wanted were $130 each. I hesitated, running late for a meeting with my boss, and decided to buy them as soon as my meeting was over.

I got laid off at that meeting.

Dazed, I staggered back to my office, sat down at my desk, took out my phone, and bought the tickets – full on planning to tell my wife I’d bought them before I got laid off.

The playoff game was a full-throated, red-in-the-face, 4-hour roar – as if we believed we could make the Yankees win with our voices. Every pitch, every swing, every out, every everything we howled with all our might until the struggling Did Gregorious came up with the bases loaded and slapped a home run over the right field wall to put the game out of reach.

From there the Yanks moved on to the unbeatable Astros who we beat in game 1. Then lost the next three in a row. All hope was lost, but the Yanks still won Game 5. Then they spent Game 6 behind by two runs until the 9th inning…the 9th inning…DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run homer to tie the game and Jack and I went ballistic! We woke up the entire house and I got a fat lip against his chin as we jump-hugged.

But just like that, Jose Altuve responded with a walk off home run and just like that it was over. This Yankee team I’d loved more than any team ever before. This team that battled through injuries and picked each other up and were such epic wonderful fun all season…this team that felt magic and charmed and 200% inevitable…

It broke my heart.

I didn’t watch any of the World Series until it went to Game 7, which is holy. Jack and I watched in the basement, often on our phones and not talking much. I think both of us couldn’t help but wondering what it would have been like if the Yankees had been in the game.

Then yesterday the Baseball Tonight podcast ended their season the way they always do, by playing “The Green Fields of the Mind.” And I did what I always do, I listened in the car and cried. Another season was over.

Some concluding thoughts…

  • The job search is going well. I’ve got a freelance assignment through the rest of the year and I have some promising leads that I think will soon turn into actual job offers.
  • Next season will be the last one that Jack and I will experience together. 2020 will be his senior year. 2020 is it.
  • We are plotting games for next season already. Boston with my Aunt Joan. Seattle as part of a family vacation to the Northwest. And I’m sure some Yankees games will get in there.
  • And finally, let there be no mistake about it, if the Yankees win the World Series next year, I am streaking. Immediately. Prepare yourselves now.

So here’s to an amazing season – possibly my favorite ever. And even still, it broke my heart.

Here is the “Green Field of the Mind;” You should listen.

Big plans

Here are the salient facts:

  1. The AAU National Diving Championships are in California from July 18-22
  2. Shani is taking Alex
  3. This leaves me and Jack on our own
  4. The Chicago Cubs are home that weekend

The conclusion was obvious. Or so it seemed. But then I started looking at making it happen. Flights were super expensive and I couldn’t get there using frequent flyer miles. Hotels were expensive too. I even started looking for an alternative. Houston? Minnesota?

Then I opened Google maps.

A new set of salient facts became apparent.

  1. Chicago is a 12-hour drive from New Jersey
  2. Detroit is on the way to Chicago
  3. The Detroit Tigers are home that weekend
  4. Cleveland is on the way home from Chicago
  5. We have good friends in Cleveland
  6. The Cleveland Indians are home that weekend

Again…obvious conclusion. Here’s the route:

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We’ve got Tigers on Friday at 7:05 PM, Cubs on Saturday at 1:05, Indians on Sunday at 1:05. Over the course of a 72-hour period, it breaks down to:

  • 26 hours of driving
  • 15 hours of baseball
  • 24 hours of sleep (we hope)
  • 7 hours for other crap

If all goes according to plan, by July 21st, Jack and I will have visited 17 of the 30 MLB parks together. There is a term for this.

Good parenting.

 

 

 

 

The Bizarre Reality of Parenting Teenagers on a Saturday Night

Let me paint you a portrait of our evening this past weekend.

  • Friday: Jack and Alex both home and without plans.
  • Saturday: I went out and met two friends for a drink. Returned at 9 PM. Jack and Alex both home without plans.

They’re both just there. Sitting in our living room. And I find it weird.

They both have good sets of friends, but for some reason that doesn’t turn into weekend plans. They’re too old for sleepovers. They’re not going to parties (I think that may be because they don’t drink, but maybe they’re just not invited to parties).

Jack goes to the basement to play X-box and drop f-bombs. Alex watches Netflix. Or they both just lay there on the couches like seals and scroll scroll scroll through Instagram. It makes me want to smack the crap out them.

So Shani and I go to bed and the boys stay up late doing nothing even remotely worth doing. They usually eat cereal at some point during the night because I find the dishes (and sometimes the milk).

And my question: Is this OK? I guess I should want them around, but shouldn’t they be out doing stuff? I could suggest a movie or a game or bowling — but it’s not my job to entertain them anymore. And honestly, I want to go to bed so I can get up early the next morning and do stuff.

I’m baffled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Of…

 

 

Alex and I went for a hike this past weekend to Sadsbury Woods in Pennsylvania. We had a great time. Heavy snowmelt left entire sections of the trail muddy, so we so we had to navigate through twigs and fields of prickers yelling ouch!and laughing. We crossed an overflowing stream using sticks for balance, clinging to branches, and engineering an unnecessarily complex system to keep the camera dry. We jabbered about which countries we’d like to visit most, strategies to drum up babysitting business, and dancing to Beyoncé.

At the end of the hike, we had a debate on who could run faster, which led us to race the last 100 feet to the parking lot (Alex won). That left us laughing hysterically and gasping for breath at the same time. The whole thing was just idyllic.

On the way home, we hit Wawa for meatball parm subs, and then took turns picking out songs to play. About halfway through the drive, I turned down the music.

“You wanna know something?” I asked, and I was a little choked up.

“What?” Alex responded.

“I genuinely cannot imagine a better life.”

Speaking of music and crying…

This February, the local classic rock station, WMGK, counted down the Top 20 Frontmen and Frontwomen of Classic Rock. Each day they released a new name, counting down from #20 to #1 (Mick Jagger, bitches!).

I got ridiculously invested in the countdown, and I wasn’t alone. I put the list up on Facebook and updated it daily. It turned into a non-stop debate. Friends from periods across my life dove in and debated Jim Morrison vs Steven Tyler, Stevie Nicks vs Ann Wilson – and we delved heavily into the very definition of classic rock and frontman. The conversations strings got so unwieldy that I had to start new posts 4 separate times. One friend told me he missed his train stop because he was thick into the debate. When they announced Roger Daltry at #6, I swerved to the side of the Turnpike and immediately updated the group. It was wonderful and all-encompassing and had me re-connecting with dozens of friends.

Somewhere in the midst of this craziness, I was driving home, listening to WMGK when they announced that a new song by Tom Petty had been released. After Petty’s death last year, they had been sorting through his recordings and found an unreleased song.

Now, I love me some classic rock (obviously), but Petty is my favorite. He’s my guy. He’s the one closest to my soul.

The song was called “For Real” and the chorus was this:

 

I did it for real.

Would a done it for free.

I did it for me.

Cause it was all that rang true.

I did it for real.

 

And it I did it for you.

 

It was Tuesday at 5:40 PM and I was driving on Route 295. And I was absolutely bawling.

Speaking of Tom Petty and friends and crying…

Last year, the day after Tom Petty died, I was in San Francisco for work. I met up with my friend, Reef, who lives there – and as luck would have it, our close friend, Wade, was also there for work.

The three of us were friends in our early 20s when we lived in LA together. There’s an intensity to that time of life, a glorious arrogance and self-centeredness where you feel like there couldn’t possibly be better, more powerful people in the universe and together you are the force that will drive tectonic shifts in the culture.

Reef, Wade, and I shared that time together, and 20+ years later we still love each other deeply because of it. We also listened to a crapload of Tom Petty on a crapload of crazy roadtrips.

So back to that night in San Francisco. We met up at a bar that night with plans to drink a shot in honor of Tom Petty. But it got complicated. The bar only served beer, so Wade went to the bodega next door and returned with a bottle of rank vodka (It was all they had!) – and a big bottle at that (It was all they had!)So we plunked that bottle down on the bar in front of us and did a shot with glasses the bartender gave us.

From there, things got more complicated:

  • We spent the next few hours scrawling our favorite Tom Petty lyrics onto cocktail napkins with plans to mail them to my brother
  • We finished the entire bottle (you saw that coming, right?)
  • I have no idea what happened to the napkins
  • Wade crashed on the couch at my Air Bnb
  • I puked my guts out the next morning

A few months later, right before Christmas, I got a package from Wade. Reef did too. Each package was labelled “do not open until X-mas”.

Christmas morning, I cut open the package and the smell of new T-shirt lifted out of the plastic envelope.

“What is it?” Shani asked.

I couldn’t even answer her, because I was crying. There were two shirts, one for me and one for Shani:

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For those of you who don’t know, those are lyrics from “You Wreck Me” by Tom Petty. Reef got a lyric T-shirt too.

The gift of 20+ years of friendship.

And speaking of Christmas and friendship and crying…

Every year I write a letter to Shani and Jack and Alex. I put it in their stocking.

This past year I wrote to Jack about how much our trip to Spring Training in Florida had meant to me. I talked about sitting on the grass berm wrapped in a wool blanket and watching the Yankees. I talked about the emergency stop in Baltimore where I nearly crapped my pants. The grubby hotel in Georgia. Sitting in the sun watching the Pirates play while Jack collected autographs. Blasting John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” over and over.

Then as I reached the end of the letter, I wrote something to him that I didn’t expect to say at all. But as it came out, I realized it was really the point of the entire letter.

In a lot of ways, you’re my best friend. I know parents aren’t supposed to be that, but it’s happened anyway.

Our family routine on Christmas is to make coffee, open our gifts, and then I make a big breakfast pizza for everyone. I was in the middle of chopping onions when Jack slid into the kitchen. He came right for me. He draped a lopey arm around my neck and mushed our two heads together. His voice was murky and hoarse.

“You’re my best friend too.”

Then he slid out as fast as he’d slid in. And he left me there, stunned, glowing, and wondering if it was really even happened.

And finally, speaking of gratitude…

I want to end by saying thank you to literally everyone who reads this silly blog (or at least tells me they do). From Facebook friends to lifelong friends to old friends to best friends…thank you for being my friends.

Because in all sincerity, I will come back to thought I started with:

I genuinely couldn’t imagine a better life.

And I have you to thank for that.

Offseason Update

Yes, it’s been an extremely slow offseason here at NuckolBall. But we have not been idle. Some updates…

1) Jack and I have created: Official NuckolBall Stadium Guide

We spent a lot of time and effort on it and we’re awfully excited. We’re shooting for 1000 downloads — so expect to hear more about that in the coming weeks.

2) Spring training is a GO

Jack had to deliver three As on his report card and he just made it. Lots of last minute cramming, but he pulled it off. So we are headed to Florida in March!

3) Letters to GMs are OUT

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Jack has sent out letters to 14 MLB general managers requesting he be allowed to interview some players at Spring Training. Hopefully we’ll get a bite. (Note about that photo — Jack had his wisdom teeth removed the previous day. His brother said he looked like a potato.)

Here’s wishing that you’re all enjoying the off-season. Just 41 days until baseball is back!