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!

 

 

 

 

Language Lessons and Teen Boys

Jack’s big Christmas present was a trip to a Yankees/Red Sox game, and this Wednesday was the big day. We left at 2:00 and headed to New York City with plenty of time to do our thing. We parked in Washington Heights and rode the subway into the Bronx to get there. Jack has a passion for New York and I love to watch him navigate through the city. He plays it cool on the subway and follows my cues of how to handle yourself like a local.

We got into the stadium at 5:30 when the gates opened for the tail end of batting practice. Then we got food and wandered the stadium. Jack navigated the whole thing expertly and even got a few autographs (which is very tough at Yankees Stadium).

 

Then the game. We sat in the bleachers, which are legendary. As the Yankees took the field, a giant man with a shirt that said “SECTION 204” stood up and led the roll call, chanting each Yankee fielder’s name until we got a wave or hat tip of acknowledgment. Then Mr. 204 turned and bellowed to the entire section: “We don’t do the wave!”

Aaron Judge got his first hit since returning from the DC. We got to see the debut of Justus Sheffield, the Yank’s top pitching prospect. The game was awesome.

But I have to acknowledge the silence.

There’s a veil that’s descended between Jack and I. Maybe it’s between Jack and the whole world. There were reluctant pauses on the drive, during the subway ride, and while we were sitting in the stands. I find myself wanting to ask him about life and about himself, but there’s hesitation in the air. And often, instead of calling it out or pushing through it, we default to baseball (which is always safe and easy and endless.)

“I wanna see Sanchez get it in gear. He needs to.”

“He was the best catcher in the league two years ago. He has to turn it up.”

“That happens when we are deadly into the playoffs.”

I actually think the real point of sports is so men have something safe to talk about. I spend time with Jack and his friends and I listen to them interact. They don’t even really talk to each other. It’s a strange combination of inside jokes, dares, and what if statements about raising the stakes.

“What if we tried to cook four marshmallows on one stick?”

“What if we did a hot dog and marshmallow together?”

Everything is subtly competitive and none of it is actually about themselves. They share nothing.

I can remember being in 8th grade being on the school bus when my best friend, the Chief, told me he had a crush on Cathy Moss. I was flabbergasted. Then he admitted he’d had a crush on her since 4th grade. And I remember thinking: How did I not know this? This is my best friend. We’ve spent hours and hours together up late at sleepovers and at each other’s houses.

But somehow boys build a bubble around themselves. It’s like a membrane they form between themselves and the world. It’s part of becoming a man. And I can feel that bubble around Jack.

My Uncle Bob has brain cancer.

When Bob told me the news, I asked him what he needed from me. He told me he needed a hug. So we gathered in Boston about a month ago. Me, my brother, Marie, my Aunt Joan, Pablo.

We spent a weekend together that was unforgettable. It was filled with a magical, rich authenticity between all of us that was driven by the situation. We hugged and laughed and shared — and if there was any hint of a bubble, it was a bubble that we were all inside together.

So that Sunday night, after I got back home, Shani, Jack, Alex, and I had dinner on our back porch. I told them about the weekend.

“So first off, Bob is doing great. He’s having almost no side effects from his treatment. We won’t know for a few months if the treatment is actually working, but for now it’s going as well as it possibly can.

“But here’s what I wanted to say.

“Bob has cancer. My uncle has cancer. And I want you guys to know how happy you make me. Each of the three of you individually make me happy. And the four of us together as a family make me so, so happy. I love each of you so much. And I want you to know that.”

Shani teared up and took my hand. Alex got up and buried himself into my chest.

Jack said, “I love you, Dad.” He said it clearly, he said it happily, and he said it without any reluctance.

Start spreadin’ the news!

The Yankees won. In fact, they destroyed the loathsome Red Sox 10 – 1. Jack and I followed the crowd down the steps as everyone sang along to Frank Sinatra, voices echoing off the concrete. We piled into the crowded subway and then transferred to the A Train.

On the platform we looked at the subway map together. He asked me to point out where I’d lived, where Shani had lived, where we’d worked, and the hospital where he was born.

We got onto the Turnpike and put on the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy. We debated which Volume was better and he asked me about the origin of Captain Marvel. Then we fell into a tired silence. The final 30 minutes of the ride, I made him play YouTube videos over the car speakers of Dwight Schrute from The Office. I needed the laughter to help me stay alert.

When we got home, it took me a minute to get out of the car. As I headed for the door, Jack was there on the top step, his arms wide. Two Aaron Judge jerseys came together on my porch at 1:00 AM in a strong embrace.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said, “Thanks so much.”

Then we crept into the house and went to bed.

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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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