baseball

My Final Season (and So It Begins….)

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This is what Opening Day looks like in San Francisco.  Technically not “Opening Day.” That event and its annual parade was actually cancelled a weekend ago. The rainy conditions introduced the unpleasant prospect of baseball-cleated pre-teens sliding around in the payload of rented pickup trucks like a pile of slippery mackerel.  This would have been my last San Francisco Little League Opening Day Parade, since my younger son will graduate out at the end of the current season.  I’ll get over it, but I would have liked just one more trip around the block with a pile of fish. 

Even after 12 or 13 years of these rides, I can almost remember each.  When loaded with a dozen 50-pound first-graders, space comes at a premium back there for coaches who haven’t seen first grade and 50 pounds since 1975. Sixth-graders now, the players on my Majors A’s team this year have doubled in size from their first-grade selves. We coaches have, maybe, added a few pounds here and there as well. Sitting in the open air on the bump of a metal wheel well, pinching one’s knees together as the driver careens around the Marina, the players rhythmically banging their fists on the quarter panels, sounds, objectively speaking, undesirable. But I would have liked to take one more spin around the neighborhood, my own hand stinging at the end of it (it’s not just the kids that do the banging). 

Thankfully, lightning and sneakers losing purchase and liability did not come into play for our team’s actual first game, which transpired this past weekend.  This is not to say that my boys (it’s only boys this season) pranced around in the bluebird skies, blazing sunshine, and fresh cut grass from my youth. Nope. I suspect our field had recently played host to a lacrosse game or rugby match or Friday evening adult softball game featuring a keg drained down in the visitor’s dugout. The field has seen better days. I can’t blame the outfield, pockmarked with ankle-twisting gopher holes, on those other folks, though.  That’s just nature.  The kids have been navigating those vermin-built land mines for so long, we don’t even bother mentioning this hazard to our right fielders anymore. 

Gopher holes? What gopher holes?  

The unusually heavy fog added an interesting variable to the mix. The Golden Gate Bridge’s fog horn moaned the entire night before our game.  The late evening news weatherman, his opinion seconded by the opposing team’s head coach, said it would be thick.  He was right.  At 7:15am on Saturday morning, the fog bank operated as a de facto outfield fence.  If any player was able to jack one out into the fog, literally hitting the ball out of sight, I suspect the home plate umpire would happily circle his index finger in the air.  That would be a very cool sight, and I wouldn’t care whether our team did it, or their team did. 

Fog? What fog?

Given the paucity of playable fields within the 7 mile by 7 mile footprint of San Francisco proper, the League struggles mightily to accommodate the 1,000+ rabid little leaguers with crooked caps and untied shoelaces. Hence our 8am game on Saturday.  My team’s players, presumably still bleary-eyed from an all-night Fortnight video game bender, drifted onto the field one and two and three at-a-time; eventually comprising a full quorum by the time the umpire requested my hand-written lineup. Our pre-game drills turned just-unwrapped official league baseballs into the heavy dirty gummy dun spheres on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I whack a brand-spanking new ball with my fungo bat out into the outfield, someone (hopefully, eventually, corrals it), and throws back to me an unrecognizeable ball covered in mud as though it had time-traveled (backwards or forwards, I’m not sure which).  But none of the players and none of the coaches complained about the mud balls.   

Mud balls? What mud balls?

As it turns out, we got our butts kicked on Saturday morning.  Wasn’t much of a contest, really. Sure, we talked about it after the game.  A little bit. The strikeouts and botched plays and missed steal signs and such.  But that stuff hardly mattered as we all knelt in the still-wet grass surrounded by the still-lingering fog. I glanced around this semi-circle of boys, ready smiles on their faces, some giggling and poking at each other, no hints of dejection or disappointment over why didn’t I swing at that third strike. In that moment, I thought to myself, “getting our butts kicked never felt so good.” 

This is my last season, and I’ve resolved to savor every moment of it.  So bring on the rain and fog and gophers and mud balls.   

Hall of Fame-Bound (Aisle 25).

I thought for sure that a cross-country Jet Blue flight would require a plane with more than just 25 rows.

No such luck.

We ended up in the last row.

I’m a glorified bathroom monitor. While the gentleman seated next to me — who is decidedly larger than I — snores unrepentantly, I count. I can’t help myself. Despite my best efforts, I cannot help but count the number of my fellow passengers who have queued up in the aisle to occupy the restrooms just behind my seat.

…16…17…18….

I haven’t noticed any repeat offenders. But if in my expert opinion a passenger queues up a second time well before he or she reasonably should, it will not go unnoticed.

I’m extra irritable due to our 4am wakeup call.

I’ve already caught myself lashing out at my wife in our Uber cab because a light on Lombard lingered red for too long. She requested we take Gough rather than take the Embarcadero. And it is clearly her fault that the Lombard stop lights are timed to facilitate Lombard traffic, not side street traffic, at 430 in the morning. Clearly her fault, I snarled.

…19…20…

I bristled while in line for $40-worth of croissants and coffee in the International Terminal. Bristled not because of the premium pricing, but because of the gentleman standing nearby, having a full-throated iPhone conversation with his earbuds in. That irked the shit out of me. My icy stares paired with a mean, flat affect produced no modification in his behavior, however.

…21…22…

I’m no good at sleep-deprivation. Pretty lousy, actually. I’m just not myself (I hope).

So yah, I will not be able to help myself from making damned sure the double-dipping restroom patron knows that I know he (or she, but probably he) is lining up for a second time. I’ll try the icy stare and cop-face again. Hopefully with better results.

…23…24…25…

It will continue like this for awhile. The Dunkin Donuts coffee I’m throwing down on the heels of the Il Fornaio airport coffee won’t improve my mood. I need a nap. But the cadence and vigor with which I just caught myself chewing my piece of take-off gum suggests that nap will not be coming any time soon.

And oh yeah, we’re headed to Cooperstown. That should be enough to lift my mood. Or at least it will be once I find that nap. And after I punish the first double-dipper.

…26…27…28….

Thanks for reading.

I Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won.

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This is how nature is supposed to look.  Well, let me try that again:  Ignore the Snapseed and Instagram bells and whistles.  Ignore the posed look on Everett’s face.  He insisted.  Basically refused to move until I took the photo.  Ignore, too, the fact that the dog is over it.  Near impossible to get her to stand still on that small rock, with Everett stuck in time.  And she probably didn’t appreciate Everett’s left hand maybe grabbing a bit of skin to keep her in position. 

Ignore all that. 

Ahh, that’s better.  OK, so like I said, this is how nature is supposed to look.

I say “supposed” because I’m still trying to come to terms with what’s happening at this very moment in our backyard.  As Everett just pronounced when he stumbled into the living room this morning, “Are the guys still doing our turf?  Yeah, I heard voices.”

Yep.  We are getting a fake backyard.

I used to scoff at the notion of artificial turf.  The Montreal Expos’ field.  That’s my first recollection of the stuff.  My first interaction with the surface as best as I can recall.  That turf was so bad, they changed the team’s name, moved it stateside to Washington, D.C., and now they have a right fielder who, when in situ, looks very much like that Patterson Bigfoot film from Washington State. Or maybe it was Oregon.  Anyhow, the point is, ownership of that team was so repulsed by turf that they overcompensated in the other direction, over-paying to have a Skunk Ape look-alike roaming their now natural grass in the outfield. 

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By the way, not that it matters, but I’m referring to Jayson Werth, the Nationals’ right fielder.  I don’t mean to demean him.  I’m just saying his look is the opposite of artificial turf.  I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy.  A real model citizen.  A fine human being.

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Actually, I have no idea if he is wonderful, a model citizen or a fine human.  But I do know that he’s something like 6’5″ and 240 pounds.  So I don’t want to agitate the man.  And on the odd chance that he somehow finds this blog, I don’t want to find myself in his cross-hairs.  Um, hi, Jayson.  Apologies.  But even Jayson (hi, Jayson) would have to scratch his head over the eery similarities between the photo of him below, and Roger Patterson’s photo of the gent in the gorilla suit above.

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See what I mean?

So like I said, the lengths to which some people will go to avoid artificial turf, erase it from their memory banks, pretend they never had anything to do with it — those lengths are apparently pretty extraordinary.

In another day or so, our little backyard lawn will be gone.  Vanished.  Replaced by synthetic plastic rolled out in rectangular pieces of green carpet.  Not exactly what nature is supposed to look like. Fortunately for me, however, the stuff purportedly works like a necklace of garlic when it comes to Jayson Werth.  Which is a relief.  We can’t have a ‘squatch roaming around out there.

Thanks for reading.

 

I am not an animal.

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I think I know how the “Elephant Man” felt.

The Englishman Joseph Carey Merrick suffered from a rare, never-quite-determined illness or two that caused a number of grotesque deformities, formed the basis of a traveling show featuring Joseph as a human curiosity, and later inspired at least one theatrical plan and feature film.  Joseph was evidently miserable, and evidently also of enormous interest to showmen, doctors, royalty, and ticket-holding penny gaff patrons.

For nearly two weeks, I’ve been staggering through my days trying to remember when, exactly, I was struck by a car while riding my bike.  Or tackled unexpectedly by an overzealous, old friend.  Or inadvertently struck in the side of the head with an aluminum baseball bat.  Or maybe bitten by a blood-thirsty tick carrying one or another malevolent species of bacteria. Those are the only logical explanations I can can conjure up to explain how I’ve been feeling. But as far as I can remember, none of those potential explanations are based in reality.  None of them happened.

I have been knocked sideways by what feels like a dislocated shoulder, a sore sternocleidomastoid neck muscle consistent with the aftermath of swimming the English Channel, and an intermittent throbbing below my ear.  There are far worse health problems than mine, absolutely.  But I am not accustomed to this.

I haven’t taken a stroke in the Bay, a jogging step in my zero drop shoes, or a spin on my bike for nearly two weeks.  I have a race less than two weeks from today.  It’s not that I’m worried about finishing the race, or being adequately trained.  It’s that whatever ails me is preventing me from moving my body the way it has to move for a couple hours to even do the race.  I couldn’t zip up my wetsuit right now if my life depended upon it, for example, let alone go out and crawl around the Bay with 1,000 others.

More importantly, we’re in the heart of Little League playoffs season right now.  Both of my sons’ teams are playing.  They and all of their teammates are all kinds of fired up.  I live for this time of year.  In my current condition, if I foolishly burn through a bucket of ground balls with my fungo, the next morning will give me a hint of what it must feel like to be shot in the shoulder.  So I don’t hit infield.  Normally, my throwing shoulder is bone-weary by now, just from the sheer number of balls thrown during batting practice and father-son games of “catch” over the past few months.  In the past, I’ve complained about that seasonal ache.  I now ache for that trivial, seasonal ache.  At the moment, I am unable to raise my hand above my shoulder without wincing in pain.  So that means no throwing BP, no “coach-pitch” relief during my Little League games when our pitcher has been overly wild on the mound, and no easy game of catch with my boys.  Sure, I can catch just fine.  It’s the throwing part.  I’m reduced to underhand tosses.  And even those don’t feel particularly good.

In short, I’m miserable.

And apparently, like Joe Merrick, quite a curiosity to doctors.

My own doctor has been a champ through this.  Chatting with me after-hours on the phone. Speeding blood work results through the lab’s otherwise arthritic process.  Assuring me that eating ibuprofen like M&Ms is OK for the time being.  And showing genuine empathy for my situation, even though I know she has patients with far more serious maladies.

All of that is true.

But I am now beginning to suspect that I’m not far from the penny gaff myself.   This mysterious, pain-inducing thing knocking around inside of me is a Rubic’s Cube for my doctor.   I just want it to go away.   But my doctor has begun saying things like “infectious disease specialists,” “more blood work,” and “my colleagues.” Saying those words with a barely-detectible hint of excitement in her voice that I would rather not be detecting.

I think she is already working on the creative brief for the P. T. Barnum-style poster announcing my imminent arrival in your town.  I think she has begun drafting the speech for the barker posturing out in front of the tent.

“Step right up, folks.  You won’t want to miss this.  We have the death-defying Human Cannonball.  See him shot right out of a cannon before your very eyes.  We have Fire-Boy. The man who eats and drinks fire same as you and I eat a hearty meal.  We have Billy, the famous two-headed goat. And get this folks, for the first time ever, we bring you our newest, feature attraction:  The Whimpering Little League Coach. Reduced to throwing underhand!  That’s right, you’ll have to see it to believe it!  Has the devil taken hold of him?  Could be, folks, could be. Step right up!”

So like I said.  Miserable.  But evidently, too, of enormous interest.  Step right up.

Thanks for reading.

Two Tickets to Paradise.

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“At the edge of Cow Hollow, overlooking the Presidio, is the true cornerstone of San Francisco.”

Let me count the ways I love thee, Liverpool Lil’s.  This place, to me, provides a welcome glimpse into Old San Francisco.  Walking in is like walking back in time.  Those glimpses are fleeting in a town with so much change.  How the place has managed to stay in business since 1973 is beyond me, a testament to her rock-solid place in the fabric of the City, I suppose.  Every time I go back, typically punctuated by weeks or even months of not going, it’s exactly as I left it.  Something really great about that.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, “When Ralph Maher first opened his restaurant, he had a friend who lived in Liverpool, England, whom he’d visit several times a year.  Then came Lil, a lovely young lady he met during one of his many trans-Atlantic voyages. Ralph wanted nothing more than to take Lil to San Francisco, and Lil wanted nothing more than for Ralph to pack his bags and settle down in Liverpool. A standoff ensued. Then Ralph, hoping to entice Lil to come and live here, named his bar after her. Unfortunately, their love did not stand the test of geography, and neither of them ever made the move. ”

Local lore of a different sort suggests that Lil either didn’t actually exist, or that if she did, she might have been an, um, trollop.  First use of the word “trollop” in the Lemonade Chronicles, so a little self-congratulatory pat on the back.  I’ll take it.  Sorry, Lil.

The Examiner continues, “What’s so fantastic about Lil’s is there is always the option to make your experience either a high-end or low-end one. At the eatery’s front is its cozy publike cocktail lounge, covered with sports memorabilia, showcasing those athletes who have frequented the place. So that table in the cocktail area dominated by photos and articles written about the star, well, that’s where heonce liked to sit.”

First use of the word “heonce” in the Lemonade Chronicles, even if I’m quoting someone else who is a much better writer than I.  I’ll take it.  Sorry, Examiner writer.

Something fascinating about the characters who have drank and presumably gotten drunk, on occasion, amidst these dark wood walls.

According to a piece on a website called NewFillmore.com, “Of all the customers and characters who have adopted Liverpool Lil’s as their favorite hideout, rumpus room and pile-it-high-on-the-plate eatery, Joe DiMaggio is the most lionized. Maher [the Founder, evidently] even framed DiMaggio’s scorecard from the nearby Presidio golf course. A notorious loner and a man of few words who hated people to fuss over him or his fame, the Yankee great would slip in solo and sit by himself at a table, underneath his picture and opposite the bar. ‘He’d have a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine,’ recalls Ed Wocher, Liverpool Lil’s host for 30 years. He says DiMaggio liked the place because he could come in and nobody bothered him. If Marilyn ever joined him, Wocher never saw her.”

And the intrigue doesn’t end with Joltin’ Joe.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “This English pub-restaurant has been a favored haunt of classical and jazz musicians, [and even] the local FBI and Secret Service.”  Hmm.  OK, so that’s cool,  but it also makes me a bit edgy, given my previously-stated discomfort with Google Search and TSA Gate Agents.

My own personal history with Lil’s is far less fascinating, objectively speaking.  I didn’t down Whiskey or Martinis with Mr. Coffee.  My family did rent a flat for over 10 years from “The Crow” — Joe’s Yankee teammate, infielder Frank Crosetti.  But he and I never shared an Anchor Steam at Lil’s.  I have finished a number of long-ish trail runs, Tam road rides, and the like with a well-deserved pint or two, shared with a buddy or two who equally deserved their own pint or two.  I also conceived a branded concert tour in cahoots with a colleague and friend who formerly ran marketing for Hard Rock.  Cloistered away in a dark corner, lounging on red plastic-cushioned benches, underneath the photos of the aformentioned famous people who drank and presumably got drunk, on occasion, under their famous photos.

So the place is special; think we’ve established that.  Its walls are covered in a haphazard fashion, though sometimes I stumble on something truly unique.  Like last night.  Meeting a friend for a pint over a discussion of inflection points, I found behind my head a framed stock certificate.  Someone had evidently purchased shares in San Francisco Seals, Inc., in 1956.  Two shares, to be specific.  The stockholder’s name is tough to make out, as you can see.  Francis G. Someone.  Leyag?  Leyaf?  Layae? I’ve Google searched every possible permutation of letters, and come up empty.

And the Lil’s bartender who answered the phone tonight was none to happy about being pressed into duty to lean over a customer’s table and try to decipher Francis G’s last name in the dim light.  I suppose that’s part of the charm.

But I imagine the thrill that Francis G.  stoked in his (her?) household the day he (she?) slapped that stock certificate on the kitchen table.  Two shares in the franchise of Lefty O’Doul and the DiMaggios.  History.  Even at that time, it was clearly history-in-the-making.  Must have been quite a thing.  How it ended up on the wall at Liverpool Lil’s is a mystery.  I would be surprised if anyone working there knows the stock certificate’s backstory, has any idea who Francis G. is or was.

But I love the fact that it’s there.

Oh, and one last thing:  If you’re curious as to its value, I stumbled on a site offering a similar stock certificate for the bargain price of $895.

Thanks for reading.