dad

Cooperstown, Take Two (This Time, I Am Ready).

It’s been four years since we last pointed our compasses 2,881 miles to the east, and made our way to baseball’s purported birthplace. The “birthplace” part is a stretch, since the idea that Abner Doubleday invented the sport in Cooperstown has been debunked (a long time ago, to be clear, not in the last four years). A hotel owner conjured up Baseball’s Hall of Fame (and likely played a part in germinating the Doubleday myth) as a much-needed shot in the arm for a local economy reeling from the double whammy of The Great Depression and Prohibition. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, actually there was plenty of history before “the rest,” so perhaps more accurately, “the rest” is a sublime monument to the history that transpired before the Hall’s construction, and to that which has transpired since. And to that which transpires, still. This weekend, in fact, marks the annual rite by which the newly-elected cohort of mostly recently-retired major leaguers are inducted into the Hall with great fanfare.

This weekend also marks my family’s return to an out-of-the-way Airbnb rental house for a climactic youth baseball tournament. We weren’t ready then. 2014 saw my eldest son Max, (The Kraken), trot around on the field with knickers and red socks (not “sox”), and turn 13 when he blew out the candles on a birthday cake my wife had clandestinely carried into the ballpark. I suppose we hadn’t planned ahead with sufficient foresight to avoid some serious rule-breaking (“ABSOLUTELY NO OUTSIDE FOOD ALLOWED!”) with that birthday cake. I believe the statute of limitations on that clear transgression has run. But to be safe, this time around, we are taking our act down the road a bit, to a different ballpark tournament altogether. Because we are better prepared.

Moreover, we have ensured that our youngest son Everett (he of the infrequently brushed teeth), has no expectations regarding any illicit pastries. There are no looming birthdays (nor forgotten birthdays) or other holidays that might otherwise force his mother and I to give in to our baser parenting instincts, Americana baseball field rules be-damned. If Ev sneaks verboten items into his little dormitory (and this is not a very big if), that’s on him. I have deliberately avoided reading through the printed tournament rules carefully, dodging direct confrontation with any prohibitions associated with candy or soda or PlayStations or Fortnite or whatever. I have therefore managed to arrive on the east coast armed with plausible deniability. And I aim to preserve this status. Printed Tournament Rules? What Printed Tournament Printed Rules? Yessir. 2018–Everett’s turn at Cooperstown–will be different. Because this time, I am ready.

This means that I am better prepared for on-the-fly, unexpected developments that might occur away from the environs of the baseball diamond, too. During our last visit, I spied across a restaurant a fraternity brother whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. This might seem a joyous occasion, but for the rather unfortunate fact that I could not for the life of me recall his actual name. Only his pledge name came to mind. And as is the case with most if not all pledge names, this would not be a pleasant moniker to deliver up at his dinner table as he sat surrounded by his wife and children, no matter how big I forced my smile. I interrupt his reverie out of the blue to remind him of some unflattering physical characteristics rather cruelly called-out a quarter century ago by only slightly older college kids who were themselves still stinging from once being similarly called out and therefore overly eager to pass along this lovely tradition. No, I couldn’t bear to perpetuate this jackassery of my younger self now that I sat at a restaurant as a grown man.

But I still couldn’t remember his name, no matter what sorts of memory tricks I anxiously sprinted through in my mind. No matter how many random first names my wife stage-whispered to me in a generous but totally-unhelpful attempt to come to my rescue (there are a lot of names, you see). I saw my fraternity-brother-without-a-name go through the motions of paying his bill and begin to gather his rental car keys and progeny. I struggle to stifle my increasing panic at the prospect of drawing a blank. An absolute blank on his name when he would pass my table and see my face on his way out to resume his presumably happy life during which no one called attention to any unflattering (or flattering, for that matter) physical characteristics. Reaching under the table cloth, I furtively text another fraternity brother who lives in Reno, whose pledge name and real name I have not forgotten, and who I knew would instantly recall our younger fraternity brother’s given name. “What is Knuckle Dragger’s real name?” I text him this with absolutely no context. There is no time for context. “Phil,” my savior texts me back almost immediately, just as “Knuckle Dragger/Phil” (neither his real name nor his real pledge name) obliviously approaches my table. This last-minute reprieve via an absurd text message exchange allowed me 2 or 3 seconds to compose myself, stand up, and magnanimously greet him (by his real name) as if we were the best of friends.

“Phil” was dumbstruck, literally appearing to be in shock, and maybe just maybe sufficiently flattered that he might forget his “Knuckle Dragger” mistreatment at my hands and those of other slightly-older college kids 25 years ago, each of us overly eager to leave the sting of our own pledge names and unflattering characteristics behind. After a few minutes, we parted ways and I sat back down at my table, emotionally exhausted, having narrowly averted disaster due to a lack of preparation.

This time around, during our trip in Cooperstown, I am better prepared. I will be shouldering a heavy backpack containing every grade school and junior high school and high school and college and law school yearbook I could gather up over the past four years. The pages are taped and flagged and referenced and cross-referenced with classmates long-forgotten but who may pop up with their own baseball-playing son, having made their own pilgrimage to this Mecca of baseball. This time around, for Cooperstown Take Two, I am ready. Wish me luck.

Get It Wherever and Whenever You Can.

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I am Super Dad.  This is the view that Super Dad took in whilst squeezing in an hour-long trail run before one of his son’s lacrosse games yesterday afternoon.   Can’t you hear the angels singing in the background?  The welcome scent of the pungent, local flora approaching springtime bloom?  Crystal mental clarity, all the senses running on all cylinders?  One with nature? I am Super Dad.

Plfft.  Hardly. 

A more realistic depiction of what squeezing training sessions into a busy schedule actually looks like would be a photo of a car trunk in which someone or something appears to be living.  Mismatched socks, the heels rubbed thin or missing in at least one.  A beach towel wide and long enough to give me cover for a tasteful change into shorts to run in.  Never mind if it’s a towel stretching Lightning McQueen’s toothy grin across my behind.  While standing in the parking lot, hopping on one leg, trying desperately to avoid attracting unwanted attention from other parents or children nearby.  “Mommy, what is that man doing??”  “Tommy, don’t look at him, DON’T LOOK AT HIM!”  And never mind if I grabbed the wrong towel from the linen closet at home, in a rush.  I can make do with a bath towel if need be.  It just means that I’ll need to clutch the corners at my hip with a vice grip, barely avoiding violating at least one local ordinance regarding public indecency.  And I’m not above using one of the dog’s pink, purple, or lime towels for this gaudy exercise in modesty, no matter how much dog hair and dog slobber resides on the towel.  

I’ve fallen in love with a new kind of shoe, too, and I think I’ve finally managed to find the perfect pair.  That also means that I wear the shoes every day, and for every run.  I’m told I should rotate shoes as a farmer rotate crops.  I refuse to let these shoes air out, to lie fallow.  The scent of long-expired roadkill emanating from the soles is a small price to pay for comfort.  My family doesn’t have any positives to associate with this particular negative since they don’t run in these fantastic shoes.  They associate the fantastic shoes only with a not-so-fantastic scent.  Collateral damage.  Super Dad has to get his run in, wherever and whenever he can. 

I know I’m pushing my luck with that last Super Dad reference, now that I’ve planted in your mind the image of the man in the parking lot clutching the Lightning McQueen towel at his waist and hopping around madly, the full length of his porcelain-white thigh flashing the nice families and perhaps scarring the younger children for life. 

I have my first triathlon in about ten years coming up, and my body is ten years older than it was then.  So I have to squeeze in these training sessions wherever and whenever I can. Hence the hopping  and flashing yesterday afternoon.

I had envisioned an hour-long romp in the rolling trails I spied on a crest overlooking my son Max’s lacrosse field in Terra Linda.  I had just enough time to dole myself out some meaningful punishment up there, I calculated.  I found a challenging loop marked off in one of the half-dozen running or hiking or biking apps cluttering one of my iPhone folders.  I’d managed to change into my running gear without incident.  Then I looked down now and saw that I’d hopped my way into a pair of bright, royal blue shorts.  The most ridiculous pair I own, handed to me with a smirk by my brother-in-law a year ago who used to work at Reebok.  I am reminded why this particular pair was given to him as a “sample.”  Because no one in their right mind would buy and wear these shorts in public.  But at this point, I’m in too deep and my remaining window until game time is running out.   

So I run. 

Easy at first, stumbling on a curb or two as I try to navigate my way to the trail head marked on the iPhone app with a green circle.  Of course it’s a bad idea to run while burying your face in your iPhone, trying to focus on the triangle GPS tells the app is where you are and trying to figure out if your triangle is getting closer or farther away from where the trail head begins.  I somehow find my way to the trail head, feeling pretty damn good about myself, despite the shorts. 

Within 90 seconds, however, my legs are cement, my back is hunched over, and my loud breathing is all I can hear.  It’s a little bit desolate up here, so the usual thought about keeling over from a massive coronary on the trail darts into my mind.  But I resolve not to stop running (never mind that this pace probably doesn’t qualify as “running.”)  Thinking on my feet (literally), I start zig-zagging up the ridiculously steep trail.  Somehow this allows my heart and lungs to keep working rather reduce me to a cursing full stop.  The trail is narrow, so my zigs are probably only two or three steps to the right before I zag the same number the other direction.  This must look ridiculous, but fortunately I’m all alone up here.

Except for the friendly Park Ranger woman marching down from just above me on the trail.  I say “friendly” because she had a big smile on her face as we made eye contact.  I say “eye contact” because the drool and inaudible “hellpooffft” I managed in response to her “hello” fell far short of any other kind of normal human interaction.  And now I’m beginning to think that her smile wasn’t really a sign of being friendly, but instead amusement at seeing this guy shuffling serpentine up the hill, with ridiculous bright blue shorts on.  But I’m in too deep, and can’t get caught up in that kind of thinking.  I have to get this in wherever and whenever I can. 

My imagined hour-long jaunt through these magical hills was cut short.  I couldn’t bear the taste of all that acid in my mouth any longer, and I was concerned that I’d be sore for a week if I kept following the seductive bends of this particular trail system.  So I cut it short, peg-legging my way back down the steep trail on quivering quads, and I made it back to the field in time for the game.  

I mean, just in time for the game.  As in, the referee’s whistle blew before I expected, robbing me of the 60 seconds I needed to change back into different, more appropriate shorts.  Super Dad does not miss a second of his kids’ games, however.  And a touch of self-consciousness, brought on by the game’s other spectators pointing and giggling at the sweaty guy in the royal blue shorts?  Collateral damage.  I have to get it wherever and whenever I can.

Thanks for reading.