Headed Out Soon

I will make this short. Here is our itinerary:

  • Wednesday: Drive from NJ to Richmond, VA
    • Stay with my good friend, Ben
  • Thursday: Drive from Richmond, VA to Amelia Island, FL
    • Dinner with my good friend, Dave, and hopefully his kids
    • Stay with Dave
    • Make a point not to spend a single dollar in Georgia
  • Friday: Drive from Amelia Island, FL to Lakeland, FL
    • 1:05 Tigers vs Mets
    • 6:05 Yankees vs Braves
    • Attempts to get autographs of Yankees players is very high on Jack’s list
  • Saturday: Drive from Tampa, FL as far north as we can get
    • 8 AM arrive at Pirates camp to get press credentials
    • 9:30 scheduled interviews with Trevor Williams, Jordy Mercer, Austin Meadows, Christopher Bostick
    • Hopefully hang out around the field and facilities as long as they’ll let us
    • 1:05 game time: Pirates vs Phillies (hopefully from press box)
    • Head out after the game and get as far north as we can
    • Make a point not to spend a single dollar in Georgia
  • Sunday: Drive the rest of the way home

Spring training with Jack is an item from my bucket list, and needless to say, I am excited to the point of deep distraction. Winters hang heavier on me as I get older, and getting baseball 3 weeks early is a remarkable thing.

But truth be told, it is driving from NJ to Florida and back with my 14-year-old son that I am looking forward to most.

 

My son doesn’t smile

Maybe a year ago, Alex was looking at family photo albums and said: “Jack used to smile so much more when he was little.”

Then this past weekend, I heard Alex’s best friend, Aidan, refer to Jack as: “The man who never smiles.”

Here’s a pretty typical shot of Jack from a bike trip with my brother’s family:

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And I’m struggling through this reality.

I don’t think he’s unhappy. About once a week, we go for a “Peanut Chew Walk” (3 for $1!) to a small grocery store about a mile from the house. I check in and see how he’s feeling about life. He has friends. He likes school all right. He has fun with his family.

But still sometimes he’s like a ghost in the house. He slides through silently and sits in his room going through baseball rosters. He’s truly a creature of solitude, and unlike me or Alex, or even Shani, he doesn’t crave attention. He actively stays under the radar in the social pecking order at school.

And he does smile sometimes. Tickle him and he smiles. Or a few weeks ago I saw a helicopter overhead and without thinking about it, I said to him: “That thing is lower than my sack.” Jack and I looked at each other for a moment and then we laughed uncontrollably for five minutes.

The baseball playoffs kicked off Tuesday night with the Yankees vs Twins, winner-take-all game. It’s been a magical year for the Yankees, full of fresh faces and unexpected success. As they were announcing the players before the game started, I found myself beaming. I genuinely love this team in a way I haven’t loved a team for years.* I snuck a look over at Jack:

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My boy was smiling ear to ear.

And then that game — oh man. The Twins scored 3 runs right away. Before the Yankees even got to bat they were behind. It was the worst possible start; Jack rushed upstairs (he later admitted it was to cry).

But then just as quickly, the Yankees struck back. Didi Gregorius hit a 3-run homer to tie it up. Jack and I went bananas – stomping, hugging, screaming — I yelled so loud for so long I thought I was about to black out.

The next 4 innings were baseball at its best. Each team threatening and scratching together runs and outs. It went back and forth. Twins lead 4-3. Yanks tie it 4-4. Yanks pull ahead 5-4. Watching it was a tense, high-wire affair. It is an emotion that baseball creates and no other sport can touch.

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Then Aaron Judge was up. The Aaron Judge who will win Rookie of the Year unanimously. Who has broken the record for home runs in a season by a rookie. Who is the largest position player in the history of baseball. In fact, the very same Aaron Judge that Jack is doing a presentation about in his public speaking class next week. Oh yes, that Aaron Judge came up to bat with a man on first base.

“I sure could use two more runs for a little breathing room,” I said to Jack.

SMACK!

Like he’s done all year, Judge buried one in the stands. Alex and Shani were in bed at this point so Jack and fist-pumped and kicked and frolicked and flopped around on the floor, but we did it all in silence.

The tension was broken. The Yankees had the game in hand and rode the rest in cruise control.

Baseball (and sports) is about the dumbest thing in the world. It is absurd to place your personal hopes and life happiness in the hands of people you don’t know and who don’t even know you exist. It is the exact opposite of how I live my life.

But at the same time, it brings such intense, shared joy to me and my son.

So if you say sports if stupid — I agree. But man, oh, man do I want to see the Yankees go deep into this year’s playoffs. I know Jack feels the same way.

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*Note — coming soon will be a post about the 10 (or so) reasons to love the 2017 Yankees. This will come when they are eliminated (or win the World Series). So hopefully it won’t come for a while.

 

A Perfect Ending to the Season

OK…this has without question been the best baseball season of my life. It has included:

  • An amazing boys roadtrip to Pittsburgh and PNC park, complete with autographs and kids running the bases
  • A Phillies game with my father-in-law and the boys
  • Our minor league baseball writing project, which took us to 4 minor league games, complete with park tours, player interviews, getting foul balls, autographs, and an Elvis immitator
  • The boys and their grandparents going to a KC Royal game where they were unexpectedly upgraded to “owners club” seats directly behind home plate, complete with free food
  • On work trips, I managed to hit games in Baltimore, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

You can’t ask for better than that, right? Well, I just got awarded a writing job that will bring in some unexpected income. (Not to mention it’s for an amazing cause.) As soon as I was awarded the job…

I bought tickets to the final home Yankees game of the season. We will be there to witness Mariano Rivera’s final game. This is nothing short of baseball history, and the Nuckols crew (including Shani, my good pal Pete, and his fiance Holly) will be present.

Holy crap.

Book Review: October 1964 by David Halberstam.

(I read a crapload of baseball books. I’ll try and write a review for the non-baseball-nut.)

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I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It’s written in a readable, light novel style that has compelling characters and plot. It takes you through the 1964 season, which was the end of the greatest of the Yankees dynasties. Made me think of the currently collapsing Yankees dynasty.

There are 4 things I really liked about this book, and 1 thing I loved.

4 Things I liked:

  • Mickey Mantle once hit a home run that was 595 feet – which is actually TWO home runs in many parks. His entire career he wanted to hit one out of Yankees stadium (he once came close – which is unimaginable).
  • The dozens of ingenious ways Whitey Ford would cheat to scuff up the ball.
  • The awesome, dark rage of Bob Gibson (who I think is the best pitcher in history). Imagine the angriest person you’ve ever worked with in the worst mood possible. That was Bob Gibson pitching to you.
  • Learning about Buck O’Neil (first black scout in major leagues – I’ll probably write a blog just about this guy). Someone really worth looking up to. I handed up this section of the book to my leadership team at work.

But the thing I loved most: This is a perfect gift for my father-in-law — and picking gifts for him is hard.

Here’s the deal – my father-in-law is a real-deal baseball fan. He grew up in St. Louis and legitimately roots for the Cardinals. We went to a game last summer together, which was terrific.

So I figure this can supplement his baseball facts.

He’s  SUPER smart. He’s a Phd Biologist who headed up a lab involved in the human genome project. He wrote some of the foundational computer programs for gene mapping. It’s crazy when you google the man.

This book is something he’ll really enjoy reading. He’ll love a story of his Cardinals triumphing over my Yanks. Plus it will help him a little in the Cardinals fact department too.