baseball

I (Still) Got a Woman.

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So this morning I’m sitting on my bed, back propped up with pillows, cranking away at my keyboard, as I have been for the last several weeks-worth of mornings just like this one.  I’m busily transcribing the chicken-scratched edits from a hard copy of my book manuscript, clicking “save” more than is probably necessary, as I am terrified of losing the 260 or so digital pages comprising this memoir that have been over a year in-the-making. And I am in full-on “racing mode,” rather than “creative mode.” It’s as though I am working with someone else’s words rather than my own. So I am not being delicate and emotive here.  I just want to finish typing all the damned edits into the Word doc, like yesterday. Because (although she doesn’t know it yet), a certain famous author will soon have my manuscript pressed into her hands, buttonholed into service by some very helpful friends we share in common (Hi Kelly!). Truth be told, these are more accurately described as my wife’s helpful friends. My own connection to the to-be-conscripted author is rather tenuous (Hi Kelly!). So this is the harried state in which I find myself this morning when I turn to the manuscript’s next page and stumble upon a scene I wrote that transpired exactly 4 years ago today:  On our wedding anniversary.  Woah woah woah, hang on a second, people! Of course I haven’t forgotten about our wedding anniversary; I never do.  But I hadn’t paused yet to savor it. And this sort of thing is definitely worth savoring. So I figured this would be a good time for such a pause to savor. A good time to remind myself how lucky I am to (still) be married to my wife. And a good time to re-post something I wrote four years ago, but that could just as well have been written today (with the addition of a few links here and there for context) —

***

I bolt awake at 4:00 am. The Kraken has a baseball tournament in Sunnyvale, the first game of which begins at 8 am. Show up time is 7:00 am. The drive will take an hour. We’ll need to be on the road by 6:00 am. Raising Max from his slumber will take 5 minutes. Tyga’s “Rack City” is my go-to “wakeup” song (not to be confused with “walkup” song) with Max. Guaranteed to jumpstart his sleepy head and elicit some questionable hip-hop moves involving thrusting hips that I should probably forbid. Scrambling around the house collecting all the pieces of Max’s uniform will take 15 minutes. This despite my orders last night to have everything packed, zipped, and ready to go. Net, net, this all means a 5:30 am wake-up call. It’s only 4:00 am now, I see. But I slip out from under the covers anyhow, taking inventory on various aches and pains exacerbated by a night’s sleep that has come up short by a couple hours. This is how I begin the morning of Hilary and my 17th wedding anniversary.

This is what my life has come to. And I can’t imagine it any other way.

We’ve had a rough year, of sorts. Family and friends have passed away. I’ve endured several months of being considerably less than 100% myself. We have weathered a handful of bitter disappointments. Slights real and slights imagined. All of which has served to give me perhaps the deepest and broadest perspective on my marriage, and on my life for that matter, that I’ve managed to feel thusfar in my 45 years.

The lemonade–Grandma’s Lemonade–is tasting pretty good.  Still. Even with the wooden mixing spoon picked up off the floor, particles of dirt stirred in there. Maybe a long black dog hair entwined around one of the ice cubes. A few too many lemon seeds swirling around. One of which tries to ruin my sip by jumping into my thirsty mouth along with a big gulp. Gonna need to try harder than that, seed.

So yeah, I’m feeling thankful this morning, 17 years to the day from when Hilary first showed me how much stronger and tougher she is than I. She strode purposefully down the red-carpeted aisle. Standing tall. Clear-eyed. Solid. I, on the other hand, was a puddle. Tears welled up in my eyes rendering me nearly blind, blinking and squinting to keep my burning eyes trained on my approaching bride-to-be. My throat so tight. Had I spoken aloud during her proud walk, Kermit the Frog’s voice would have come out. At best. My mind reeled, as it would years later when our babies popped out in the delivery room (and years later again when my innards were gripped by the elevation and exposure at Angel’s Landing in Zion). It was all I could do to keep my feet and not topple over.

And things only got worse during the ceremony itself. My Best Man had the foresight to bring along something should I need to wipe my brow or corral a cough. Since this was the same guy who bought the Alien Head for $5, perhaps I should have known that that something would be a wad of hotel toilet paper rather than, say, a situationally-appropriate linen hanky monogrammed with something undeniably masculine.  So there I stood, sweat dripping into my burning, bloodshot eyes overflowing with tears. My cheeks blushing red and feeling like they were on fire. Little pieces of hotel toilet paper clinging to my face as I swabbed myself repeatedly in a desperate attempt to keep my shit together.

Probably being in the House of God and all that stuff did not help. I’ve always managed to feel profoundly uncomfortable there (you may recall the 10th Grade Spurious Communion Incident). Never knowing what to do with my hands, either–probably clasped in front, maybe folded behind my back, but I don’t think in my pockets, probably not in my pockets, no definitely not, get your hands out of your pockets! In this wretched state, I glance at Hilary. Her eyes hold mine. Her smile so calm and confident and comfortable. Her right hand squeezing my left just a bit harder now. Not too hard, though; not really a “keep your shit together” squeeze.  And nowhere near the knuckle-crunching vice grip she would deliver as Max came into the world a few years later.  Rather, just enough pressure to push some of her abundant strength and resolve into me. And somehow, I pull through. Depleted. Drained. Spent. Tapped out.  Sweaty red face dotted with toilet paper pieces.  In the end, I made it. Sure. But only because of her.

I mentioned it’s been a rough year. This is when Hilary is at her best, you see. Our wedding day was just my first glimpse of that truth. So during this recent tough patch of ours, she remains: Unwavering. Loyal. Her hand literally or figuratively squeezing mine. Squeezing all of our hands–my hands as well as those of our sons now, too.  And Wailea’s fuzzy paw, even. She’s got us all.

So these are the warm thoughts in my head as I return to Earth and find that I will be forced to sprint across the chewing tobacco-stained and sunflower seed-littered parking lot in order to catch the start of Max’s 8 am game.

Maybe not exactly the sort of anniversary Hilary had in mind.

Then again, maybe exactly the kind of anniversary she had in mind, because I’m spending the morning with our first-born. His birth was the second time Hilary showed me how much stronger and tougher she is than I. So it seems fitting today that I get to sit and just watch Max zip around the field for the next few hours. One of several amazing things in our life together, the product of our union 17 years ago today.

Happy Anniversary, my love. And please keep squeezing my hand.

The End of an Era

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May 29, 2018.  I’ve known this day was coming for me since August of 2006, when my Little League coaching journey began.  That month, my elder son Max (now a high school Junior) first picked up his glove in service of a San Francisco Little League team — the Giants, no less — as a kindergartner.  Team names are picked at random each season by coaches out of a hat (an envelope, really). That first season, we had plucked the name of our hometown San Francisco Giants — the first and last time the folded up piece of paper would have those particular words scrawled on it.  An auspicious beginning to a memorable coaching career.

Over the years I would coach the Grizzlies, Cubs, White Sox, Angels (twice), Red Sox, A’s (thrice), Indians, Mariners, and a couple more I cannot currently bring to mind.  Perhaps because I coached each of my sons throughout this adventure, I was keenly aware, from the very beginning, that each practice and each game meant that I would have one less practice, one less game, to savor before it all came to a crashing halt on a baseball diamond in the future. A silent clock in my head, counting down. In 12 years from now, then 10 years, then 5, then 2, then just one more, than just a matter of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, then down to a final at-bat, then down to just one last out.  I saw the end coming the whole way. 

And the end made its long-awaited appearance last night. May 29, 2018. Our San Francisco Little League Majors A’s huddled in the left field grass at Tepper Field one last time. My bloodstream was still flooded with bitter feelings from our sudden loss just minutes ago. The sensation of a dozen (somewhat begrudging, if I’m being totally honest) high-fives with the opposing team’s players still buzzed a bit in the palms of my hands.  Now, I silently regretted my deliberate decision not to pencil out an end-of-the-season speech beforehand.  I took several deep breaths in an attempt to gather my thoughts, to ensure that I was going to say the “right” things, rather than rail about missed practices, ground balls slithering through legs, and strike threes taken. And though I was painfully aware that this moment marked the end of an era for me, I tried not to peer down into that new, empty void.  Tried to focus on the boys.   

This is not supposed to be about me, you see. It is supposed to be about them. Sure, I had just coached my final game.  With the second of my sons (and I have but two).  “Dad” is my favorite word in the English language.  “Coach” had always run a close second, but  pulled up lame, as I knew it would, falling behind and off in the distance and suddenly now about to be gone forever. But not until after I try to muster up just one final (and unscripted, regrettably, again) speech on soiled knee in the outfield grass.  So I need to get this right. 

Our season had begun, as all of them do, with promise. A chance to forge a scattered and disconnected group of 11 and 12 year-olds into a cohesive team, applying lessons learned over each of the previous dozen seasons. Just last year, my team (the Mariners) won the regular season, and narrowly missed winning the playoffs, too. Arguably, our loss in the League Championship can be attributed to the overzealous coach bouncing in the third base coaches box.  That would be me. I foolishly windmilled a slow-footed runner around the third base bag, and destined him to a waiting tag at home plate.  Game over.  I expect that he has managed to forget that moment, with the youthful gift of jelly-headed resilience.  I have not been so lucky, replaying that scene over and over again in my own jelly-head. 

With some disappointment, I recognized at the start of this season that a miracle would be required for these A’s to repeat the on-field success of their predecessors, the Mariners. Sweet kids, all of them, but also offering up new challenges.  I struggled to resist my inner Captain Bligh each time players showed up at practice or even a game, invariably late, and without his hat, his cleats, his glove, his bat, his belt.  My assistant coach and good friend John routinely suffered through sunburns on his forehead, having generously, once again, “donated” his own cap to one of our forgetful A’s.  Over the course of the season, we had roughly 30 practices.  Repetition is key, I’ve learned.  And then, more repetition.  But all the sessions I had dutifully reserved, scheduled, planned for, and schlepped bags and buckets and bats and balls to over my shoulders? I believe we only had one practice at which our entire squad was present, and that may have been our very first, remind me what’s your name again? practice of the year.  

Other than near-constant, grumbling emails from me to our players’ parents, this meant that we coaches were simply never able to pontificate on all the subtleties and vagaries and nuances of the game of baseball to the entire team at once.  I never signaled a “bunt” sign during a game.  We never got around to that. We relied on only one “first and third” play when we were in the field, left to ignore the other half-dozen options given currency in every other Little League Majors season I’d coached. We never got around to that. Our most experienced pitcher — who threw the ball harder than anyone I’d ever seen in Little League — was an especially busy lad, such that I never found a meaningful opportunity at practice to iron out a kink in his swing and a rush in his pitching delivery.  We never got around to that, either.  

And so I knew, as early in March, that this would be a season of triage.  Of rushed instructions delivered during the game while sitting on my bucket of balls poised at the corner of the dugout.  Flashing the pitch sign between my legs to our catcher, while reminding him, “Big target! Stick it! Squeeze it!” Then glancing at my players in the field, assessing their body language. Beseeching our corner outfielders (who often hadn’t seen real action for several innings), “Sprint in and out and in and out and in and out, every time!” (It is a tall order, backing up potential pickoff throws from the catcher to the third baseman or first baseman.) Then cajoling our infielders, “Move your feet! Expect ball! Coming to you!” And finally sneaking in one last piece of encouragement to our pitcher, “Take a breath. See it before you throw it. Chest to knee. You got this.” I felt a near-constant, burning need to stuff twelve years of coaching instruction into a single year, into every single game, hobbled as we were from scant practice time together and from forgotten hats and gloves and bats and sunscreen and snacks and water bottles and belts. I never worked so hard on a Little League team. After games, I would pour myself into the front seat of my car and just sit there for a minute or two, trying to regain the energy required to drive back home over the Bay Bridge. 

If I could do it all over again, I wonder, do all of the orders and instructions and pitch-calling really matter? Would I, would we, have been better off had I chosen instead to sit on my hands in the dugout all season, with a smile on my face, simply letting whatever will happen, happen? I don’t know.  I suspect I would have blown out my eustachian tubes trying to hold back all the “helpful” instructions banging around in my head.  But still, I don’t know. 

To my credit (I hope), I generally tried to counterbalance the in-game micromanagement tendencies with more emotionally intelligent commentaries delivered in the outfield after each our games. More often than not, I would apologize for something I did or didn’t do during the game.  Said or didn’t say, in the heat of the moment. The players likely suffered whiplash from this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine, but I think any honest youth coach understands and struggles with this same push-pull dynamic of which I speak.  During a game, I have no fewer than 8 people inside my head shouting orders, or attempting to sooth the savage beast, or thinking make sure you smile so the parents don’t think you are a complete jerk and your players don’t fear you, or why didn’t you practice bunting more, you should have practiced bunting more this would have been a great time for a bunt. It is an emotional whirlwind, immediately followed by (ideally) a much calmer discussion about life lessons and such in the outfield grass.

And this whipsawed dynamic was on full display last night.   

We had managed to hang tight with a team that won, handily, the regular season.  Our previous encounter with the juggernaut Red Sox found the A’s on the unpleasant end of a 12-4 trouncing.  And yet, at the top of the 5th inning, here we were in a tie game, knotted at 3 runs apiece. I began entertaining visions of these A’s miraculously finding themselves playing for the League Championship four days hence.  In my 3 previous Majors seasons, two of those teams played in the championship game.  Last year we nearly won it. Why not these A’s? Why shouldn’t fate smile upon me, at long last — after 12 years — and give me a League Championship? Don’t I deserve it? 

While I fantasized about dog piles and beaming parents and shiny trophies coming my way on Saturday, I lost my full concentration on the field in that moment.  Loosed just a bit my grip on the action in front of me.  Our speedy outfielder drew a two-out walk, advancing the self-glorifying narrative building in my head, and now the meat of our order jogged up to the plate. Things were looking good.

But while standing in the third base coaches box, with my head full of delusions of grandeur, I failed to notice a devilish glint in our speedy outfielder’s eyes.  I had been preaching aggressive base running all season (to the detriment of other bedrock rules dealing with the sanctity of runs when our team is a couple runs behind, for example).  And so, inspired by his coach’s fiery pre-game rhetoric, our outfielder suddenly careened around first base in a courageous but ill-advised attempt to stretch his walk into an extra base. He almost made it, too.  But the throw and tag were true. The home plate umpire’s emphatic thumb and fist-punch ended our season.  

And I knew, right away, exactly what had happened.  Despite all these years, I had neglected the central truth:  It is not about me.  It is about them.  

And so, only minutes later, kneeling in the outfield grass one last time, I tried to look within and find that proper perspective. To come up with a valedictory speech rather than a eulogy.  To leave the boys with something poignant but not saccharine. So that they would remember the right stuff, not the wrong stuff.  To ensure that my last post-game words as a coach would be meaningful.  I told them I was proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves.  Every one of them, proud of themselves.  And of each other.  I told one of our players — whom I have coached for as long as I have coached my son Everett — that I didn’t care how many balls went under his legs. That knowing what I know now, right now, I remain grateful to have coached him all these years, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  And then I looked into his eyes and told him that I loved him. (This line I rushed through, because I wanted to get it out before my increasingly choked-up throat cut me off at the pass.) I scanned the others’ faces, and told them to look at each other in our semi-circle.  We live in different parts of the city, we look different from each other, our families came from different parts of the world. But sitting here right now, what you guys have been through together, those differences don’t matter, do they?  Never forget the fun times you had together and how much you learned together. Savor the good stuff. 

I told them that the winning and losing stuff seems really important right now, I know, but it isn’t.  It’s only baseball.  Only a game.  And that each muffed ground ball, or strike out, or whatever, is another chance to see what you’re made of.  To get back up.  To rise to the challenge.  That losing this game, and losing all the games we lost this season, is actually a good thing.  Because down the road when you have girlfriends or boyfriends who tell you one day they no longer want to be together with you, maybe you will have felt that pain before, on a baseball diamond, and maybe you will remember that you can go on.  That you will be OK.  You will fail tests, and suffer disappointments, and lose jobs. People you care about will get sick.  But you have been there before. You have been given the opportunity to play this game and make all kinds of mistakes and learn from them. Grow from them.  Push yourselves up off the floor.  At least try to get up, and keep trying to get up. 

It’s a lifelong journey, I think to myself as they boys scramble to their feet, none of them, thankfully, even remotely aware of the enormous loss I feel in my own belly.  I am still making mistakes, I acknowledge.  And gritting my teeth to remind myself each time that each mistake is an opportunity, not a failure.  A challenge, not a loss.  And while my Little League coaching career has reached it conclusion, as I always knew it would, I am trying to take my own outfield advice. To remember and savor the experience.  To appreciate that it happened. To maybe learn from it, rather than get stuck on this “end of an era” thing.  It is all a work in progress. But I am trying.  And that is enough for now. 

Thanks for reading.  And a heartfelt thank you and tip of the cap to the 2018 San Francisco Little League Majors A’s (and to all the other teams of girls and boys I’ve had the privilege of coaching). 

 

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.