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April 20th, 2009

10:54 am: Greasepaint and Pancake Mitts

(My Dad catching when he was 17, in 1948)


As a child, two objects in our storage closet fascinated me: my grandfather’s catcher’s mitt, and my dad’s clown makeup kit. My grandfather’s mitt was the old pancake style mitt common in the 1920s, thickly padded with no flex or even a pocket. You needed two hands to catch the ball. My Dad was career military, but started a clown act on the side to perform at events around the Air Force base. His clowning partner was a teenager named Lefty, the son of the base commander. Lefty grew up to be a fighter pilot and was shot down and killed over Vietnam. When my Dad dreamed about him, Lefty was always in clown makeup, doing cartwheels.



(My Dad doing his clown act.)

My grandfather taught my Dad to catch. Back in the 40s in the Pacific Northwest, baseball wasn’t something you watched, it was something you did. There were hundreds of unaffiliated minor league and semi-pro teams scattered across the county. Indian Reservations had their own leagues, and so did prison systems. The semi-pro team in my Dad’s town (Tigard, Oregon) was sponsored by the local paper mill. They needed a catcher, and he was the catcher on his high school team, so he got paid to play baseball at age sixteen. What could be better than that?

When I started my youth baseball career, I was a second baseman. By my third year, my Dad converted me into a catcher. He geared me up, and took a wooden bat and rapped me on the helmet, and smacked my shin guards and poked me in the chest protector to prove that I was safely armored. (Not entirely true, as any catcher will tell you. Nothing’s quite as unpleasant as taking a foul tip in the bicep.)

I didn’t have a great arm, but it was accurate and I had a quick release, and even though my league allowed leads and stealing on the pitcher I gunned most base runners down. My throw was always knee high, and on the first base side of the bag. I had good hands, and loved a play at the plate. My league didn’t require that the runner slide into home, and they often tried to take me out. But I had all the gear on, and became adept at applying a tag between their legs. At which point their forward motion came to a complete halt. I don’t know if that was entirely fair, but a catcher’s got to learn to protect himself and the plate.

The Christmas before my son Emmett’s AA season he received a box from my Dad. He opened the box to find a fine catcher’s mitt, a helmet, shin guards and a chest protector. Emmett played a lot of positions through AA and AAA, but as his manager I discovered that other teams scored less when Emmett was behind the plate. His manager on the all-star team, Marcelo, seemed to come to the same conclusion. When the Albany 11 year old all-stars went on their title run last season to capture the Northern California State Championship, Emmett caught 69 out 72 innings. When he was younger and people asked him what position he played, he’d rattle them off: shortstop, pitcher, centerfield, catcher. But now when people ask him what he plays, he tells them he’s a catcher.


(Emmett catching.)

Like most baseball fans, I don’t mark the arrival of spring by the appearance of daffodils, or robins, or the Easter Bunny. Spring comes with Opening Day. But for both the Albany Little League and the Major Leagues, there was a pall over the new season. As much as I was looking forward to managing this year, I felt a deep pang knowing I wouldn’t be seeing Fred Oyle out on the fields. The first weeks of the Major League season seemed shadowed by death: the promising young pitcher for the Angels, Nick Adenhart, was killed in a car accident mere hours after I’d watched him shut down the A’s; the great, goofy rookie sensation of 1976, Mark Fidrych died at age 54; and longtime announcer for the Phillies, Harry Kalas, died preparing for a game. Maybe I felt the sting a little more acutely than most; my father died on April 2nd.

I wonder if the clown in my father had wanted to go on April 1st, and the parent in him overruled that. Maybe April Fool’s Day wouldn’t be the best day for your children to get that call. I had talked to him two days before he died, telling him that Emmett was umpiring games this year. My Dad had umpired hundreds of games when I was growing up, and I knew he’d be pleased to hear that Emmett was following in his path.

As a writer and a baseball fan, I have strong opinions about baseball writing, and it is my strongly held opinion that Roger Angell’s essay “The Web of the Game” is the greatest piece ever written about the game. It’s a story that unfolds slowly, as Angell sits in the stands next to the Yale pitching coach before an NCAA regional championship pitting Yale against St. John’s. Angell masterfully parcels out the details, and you’re surprised and pleased to find out that Yale’s starting pitcher is the young Ron Darling, who would go on to pitch for the Mets in the 1986 World Series. And the starter for St. John’s was the young Frank Viola, who would go on to become the best left-handed pitcher of the 80s, and the ace of the 1987 Champion Twins. I won’t spoil the narrative for you, but the game that unfolds is widely considered to be the greatest college baseball game ever played, and the 90 year old pitching coach for Yale is none other than the legendary Smokey Joe Wood, who pitched for the championship Boston Red Sox at the turn of century.

That essay has been on my mind since my father died. It’s about how the game gets passed down through the years, from generation to generation. How you can know the past and see the future through the game. Baseball is, in every real sense, the legacy that I have handed from my father to my son. What Fred Oyle gave to his son, Alex. The future that we could see for Nick Adenhart; the memories we had of Mark Fidrych.



(My Dad and Emmett a couple years ago.)

I haven’t dreamed about my father since he died. I don’t know if he’ll come to me in dreams wearing clown makeup, doing flips on the trampoline. But when I think of him, I think of playing catch with him in the back yard – that simplest pleasure of the ball going back and forth, the ritual and rhythm of it. My two and a half year old daughter, Matilda, loves baseball, loves seeing the games and Emmett’s teammates (“It’s Arlo! Jack is my friend!”), and we’ve already started with a Nerf ball and bat. But baseball’s not her first love. On Saturdays she goes to the circus school on our street in San Francisco. She’s learning the trapeze.


(Matilda on the trapeze. Emmett's in the background wearing the Venture Brothers shirt.)

Current Mood: pensivepensive

December 9th, 2006

04:39 pm: Naked baby!


November 4th, 2006

10:06 pm: Emmett Likes Being a Big Brother


Of course , that smile's a little frozen and scary. Still! Positive sibling vibes.

September 28th, 2006

10:59 pm: Birth stories & baby pics
JZ and Matilda. Babygirl's all squished and smushed and bruised and squinty as she's only about an hour and a half old there.

xpost from Bitches

Two last birth stories.

We got to the pushing stage. Dr. Shoo is with us. She's late thirties, asian woman, very no-nonsense. Delivered a lot of babies. She gives me my instructions. "I want you to count to ten slowly as the contraction peaks. She'll push on your count. Then take a breath and do another ten count. We'll do sets of three. Okay?"

Okay, I say, I'm ready!

We all stare expectantly at the contraction numbers on the monitor. One starts to build.

Dr. Shoo: Now.
Me: I'm going to count backwards. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-5-6-7-8...

At this point Dr. Shoo gives me a look. This is what the look says. "You fucking idiot. Your wife is giving birth to your child. She's been in labor for more than a day. She's in pain and exhausted. You have only one task at this point. Count. To. Ten. Something you knew how to do in kindergarten. Get your shit together, jackhole."

JZ was more verbal. "We're not counting in crazy melty land!"

After my fiasco in counting, though, my coaching was pretty good.

The other story is when JZ was getting her epidural. She's very needlephobic and the way she deals with it is by talking her way through it. So it usually sounds like, "Okay, and now they're putting the needle in. And I'm NOT running away. I am staying still. And...OW! Fuck that hurts. Fucking fuck fuck fuck! Motherfucking fuckheads!"

So, I try to warn the doctor beforehand. "Don't take it personally." But the doctor was cool and snarky, and talked right back to her and kept her distracted. Except she's very flinchy about the whole thing. And flinched when she got the preliminary lidocaine shot.

Me: It's very important that you're still when you get the epidural. You have to be completely still when he starts it. You can't pull away or jerk. You have to be calm.
JZ: Okay. He's starting the epidural now. And I'm just going to talk. I'm going to be a little chatter monkey. And chatter monkeys live in Indonesia and they have long silky purple fur. And... [her body is tensing up and I'm afraid she's going to jerk away again]
Me: Jacqueline! You have to focus. You have to be very still.
JZ: [glaring at me] ...and chatter monkeys will BITE the fingers off people who are too bossy. They will bite them right off.

September 27th, 2006

08:35 am: Matilda Azalea Smay, born 9/26/06
Just a quick note for those following along in LiveJournal.

JZ had our baby girl yesterday morning. Fourteen hours of labor, 2 and half hours of pushing, 3 vacuum extraction attempts and we wound up having a C-section.

She's four weeks early. 6 lbs, 5.2 oz. 19 inches long.

Very healthy. Very cute!

Last night she had to be taken to the NICU to have bile suctioned out of her stomach. We think she's going to be fine. Hoping to get her back today.

I'll share pictures when I've got them.

August 17th, 2006

09:20 am: Bedrest, Baseball and The Book
Just a quick update on my world, and showing off my new icon from Steph.

JZ's been on bedrest for the last couple weeks. Back at the beginning of August she started bleeding, we rushed to the hospital, spent the weekend there and now she's hanging out at home through the end of the month. She's fine and the baby's fine, but she's bored and restless. She watched Lonesome Dove and it just about wrecked her. She's at that point in the pregnancy where she's completely flooded with hormones and extremely emotionally labile. So I'm petting her a lot and feeding her spinach dip and other Trader Joe treats.

Emmett's tournament team, The Eagles, finished up the season by winning their last two tournaments. I was there for the Alameda tournament (around the corner from Maidengurl's house, incidentally) where Emmett was in a hitting slump. The Tassajara tournament was when Jacqueline and I were at the hospital, but I kept getting updates on the phone from his Mom. Emmett wound up having a walkoff triple in the semifinal, and hit another triple in the finals to knock in the tying runs during a huge comeback.

Counting his Triple-A end of season tournament with The Mets he's won three championshps this summer. That's three more than I ever won. It's interesting, I wasn't that keen on some of the kids on the tournament team last year, but the roster has been shuffled a bit and we've added two new boys who are both extremely good players and also very nice. Also, some of the more annoying kids have grown up a bit and are much easier to be around.

I have heard through the coaching grapevine that I will probably be approached to manage a team in Triple-A next year. So far I've only been a coach. We'll see how that goes.

I was stuck on the book for much of July. I knew what I wanted to write but I couldn't find the structure for the book. I wound up having a shower epiphany and it all started falling in place. (I do my best problem solving in the shower. I used to figure out all my database problems in the shower too.) I've been in a good groove with writing since then, and the other day I was parked at a cafe in the Mission and just did a riff page. Just tried to find the tone and the language I want and was very happy with the result.

I'm feeling very ambitious about the book. Reading Joyce and Flann O'Brien for the language. That Irish mix of lyricism and earthiness. I've been tempted to write a fake set of book club questions for the end of the book just for the Nabokov of it. Still thinking about doing an appendix similar to the one Charles Finney did for The Circus of Dr. Lao.

Kim's coming up at the end of August to talk to me about doing the CrimeBus, a tour which she spun off from her 1947 Project. She's thinking about franchising it in SF. I'm meeting with her and John Marr, the famous zine writer of Murder Can Be. This is one of the things I'm exploring as an alternative to going back to a day job.

July 11th, 2006

10:44 am: This Is A Dark Ride
Anybody who watched The John Larroquette Show remembers that subject line.

I'd never really liked Night Court, but had watched it occasionally, and was familiar with Larroquette's character, Dan. It was a big surprise then to see what kind of show he'd fashion for himself.

He played a character that had bottomed out and fucked up his life and was trying to rebuild. That in itself wasn't revolutionary - even Murphy Brown started with that premise. But it was a dark show and (at least in its first season) did not simply mine the premise for jokes, but maintained a dark tone, where there weren't a lot of easy resolutions.

The show had a literary aspect, alluded to by Larroquette's character's name (Hemingway) and making a point that his favorite writer was Thomas Pynchon. How many sitcoms were making Pynchon allusions back then? Now, of course...okay, I'm kidding. They're still pretty rare. The characters were readers though. They came back to that frequently in the storylines.

One of the things I always liked about the show is that the cast was racially diverse and that was not glossed over. Daryl Mitchell's character, Dexter, in particular brought this out. They addressed the fact that when cops see a black man and a white man in a car together, they presume the point of intersection is a drug deal. It was honest about race in a way you didn't see that often. They didn't gloss over it, and drew the comedy from those tensions.

(Here's a typical scene cribbed from Jump The Shark: An example is when a robber is holding a gun on Larroquette and the black food counter owner [Dexter] says to the robber, "Shoot him (pointing at Larroquette) he's white." Larroquette responds "No. Shoot him (pointing at the [Dexter]). You'll do less time." That is truly pointed, funny and revealing of character.)

Another excellent, typifying line: ""Alcoholics don't have relationships, they take hostages."

The set was great - a big, old, rundown, but beautifully designed Art Deco bus depot.

Gigi Rice played the love interest, Carly. A prostitute. That got glossed over that a little bit. Still, it was one of the elements the networks objected to.

After the first season, the networks made changes. Alison Laplaca was brought on as the love interest. I always liked her and she did good work, but the show really lost its distinctively dark feel and became a more conventional (and succesful) sitcom.

June 15th, 2006

09:06 pm: Little League Final, Game 1
So over the last two days there was a furious volley of emails between the Mets coaches, myself, Chris and Elliot, about how to play this game. We had to take into account: (1) inning restrictions on certain pitchers (primarily Reed - who had pitched the most for us); (2) whether Eian and Jallah would be available on Friday night (No on Jallah, Probably on Eian); (4) catching corps; and (3) defensive assignments. To reiterate, we were 3-0 and had two chances to win the final. But after much palaver it was clear that we really needed to play to win tonight.

We decided to go 3 innings with Reed pitching, then stretch Jallah as long as possible. If we had the lead, we'd go to Eian to close, but if we were behind, we'd save him to pitch in Friday's game with Emmett. I argued to put Liam in the outfield where he's been very succesful catching fly balls for us, and away from his recent assignment at second where he had contracted a bad case of ball-avoidance in the last couple games. I also argued for Emmett behind the plate as much as possible because he's the best at stopping the low pitches from skipping away from him, and when they do, he's very quick to get the ball. Nobody had scored from third on Emmett on a passed ball in 8 games. Eian's an excellent receiver, but when the ball gets by him, he's so slow to get it that it's an automatic advance for the baserunners.

Emmett's also been locked in at the plate. He hadn't struck out in about five games and had been pounding the ball and making regular contact.

Home team is determined by seeding, and since we're 3-0 and the White Sox are 2-1, we're home team. We get last ups.

We start with Reed on the mound, Eian catching, Nathan at first, Emmett at second, Jallah at short, Joaquin at third, Liam in center, Tony in left and Dario in right.

Now the White Sox have some good hitters, but they don't go as deep as our hitters. That is, they're very dangerous 1-4, but we can hit 1-7, and our other guys can all come up with the occasional big hit.

White Sox lead off with Matthew (Emmett's teammate from the tournament team, and son of the tournament team coach, Marcelo). He leads off with a clean single, advances on a passed ball, and the next batter walks. Two on, no outs. Doesn't look good. And indeed, their best player, Noah comes up and drills a double into right field gap, scoring two. Their cleanup slugger Sammy also gets a hit to move Noah up. Noah scores on a passed ball that, bangs off the backboard and rolls way up the line. Reed starts to lose it on the mound a bit, and Chris (his Dad) calls a timeout to go out and calm him down. Strikeout, pop-up, strikeout and we're off the field. Our ace has pitched and we're down 3-0 already. Strong hitting by the White Sox and passed balls killing us.

Our whole team is down in the mouth. We leadoff with our speedster, Nathan, who's been slumping at the plate. Getting a lot of walks and using his speed to score, but late with his swings. Nathan strikes out. Jallah comes up and hits a hard shot to shortstop, deep in the hole. Their shortstop makes an excellent play and throws him out with a long, strong throw. Reed comes up. He's our best player by far, but he's only had one big hit during the whole playoffs. Getting a lot of walks and an occasional strikeout from being over-eager. Jallah and Joaquin and Emmett have been our best hitters recently. Reed's usually ahead of the pitches and has a hard time slowing his swing down. But he makes good contact, hitting a hard shot to third base. Against most teams that's an automatic infield hit, but Sammy fields it for the White Sox and throws a rocket across the field. Reed beats it by half a step. Eian - like Reed - one of our best hitters, has also had only one big hit over the playoffs (admittedly it was the go-ahead double that won against the Rockies). Eian drills a hard shot to shortstop, and again their shortstop makes a pretty play to throw him out.

The White Sox are an excellent defensive team.

Top of the second inning, now we're into the easier part of their lineup. Reed induces a soft bloop from the first batter and Emmett comes in to make a running catch behind the pitcher's mound. One out. Next play, a hard chopped grounder that Emmett has to jump high to field. He makes the play to Nathan at first. Next batter gets a good swing on the ball and launches it high into centerfield. Liam camps under the ball and makes the out. All the defensive assignments paid off.

We do nothing in the second. Emmett strikes out for the first time in many games. He's back in his passive mode that caused his slump earlier in the season, taking the first strike. Noooo!!! We worked on this for months. He's got to be aggressive, because when he takes the first strike, he either (a) chases a bad pitch or (b) gets a bad call and he's down 0-2 and he gets frozen at the plate. Terrible time to cold at the plate.

After two innings, we're down 3-0.

Top of the third. Matthew leads off the Mets again with a sharp grounder up the middle. Reed gets a glove on it, which slows it down. Emmett picks up the ball, and has time, but his throw pulls Nathan (who isn't tall) just off the bag. Gah! Easy first out, and we can't afford to make errors. Passed ball and Matthew moves up. Clean hit by Noah and he comes around to score. Oy. They get another run before Reed gets a last strikeout. He's pitched three innings and we're down 5-0. Fuck.

Bottom of the 3rd, Matthew still pitching for the White Sox. We're down 5-0. Nathan strikes out. Jallah drills a clean single. Reed comes up. He swings through the first pitch. Jallah goes to second on a passed ball. Reed wants to win the game with one swing, but it's just not possible. He's pressing. He works the count. Fouls off a pitch. Then he gets all of a pitch, it's soaring deep into left field. I'm the third base coach. I'm wheeling Jallah in to score. The ball bounces just in front of the fence. Very nearly a home run. Reed's on second. Eian comes up and launches a ball deep into center. Reed comes around to score. We pinch-run for Eian (which doesn't take him out of the game under these playoff rules - as you can sub in and out and can pinch run twice from your bench. Odd rules, but we're taking advantage of them since Eian is so incredibly slow). Joaquin comes up and gets a hit, and the runner comes around to score. Emmett's up. He walks. They both advance on a ground out. One out, we have men on second and third. Now it's a cat and mouse game because the pitcher is throwing in the dirt and it's a case of go! stay! I'm the third base coach and I'm constantly talking to Joaquin, who's been a great player for us this year, but has been doubled off on soft liners twice this season. Two passed balls come hard off the backstop and back to the catcher. Joaquin breaks, stops, and scampers back to third. Finally a ball gets away, and he scores easily, and Emmett advances to third. He's bouncy and excited. We've scored four runs. The White Sox get a strikeout, and then throw out a baserunner at first so Emmett doesn't score.

After three innings, it's White Sox 5, Mets 4.

Top of the 4th, and Jallah is pitching. We desperately need him to have a good game. He hasn't given us two good innings in a row in many games now. We need at least two from him tonight. Emmett's catching now. Eian's at first, Reed's at short, Liam's at second. Jallah strikes out the first batter. Next is a hard chopper that goes up and over Liam's head (he's also fairly short) and clips off his glove. Runner on first. The White Sox are being fairly conservative about baserunning in this game. Ball gets away from Emmett and the runner advances. Noah rips another gorgeous liner, that scores the runner. Comebacker for an out, and then a pop-up into short center-left that Reed ranges back to get. We're out of the inning and only gave up one run.

We do nothing in the bottom of the fourth.

After four innings, it's White Sox 6, Mets 4.

Top of the fifth, Jallah is pitching, and Emmett's catching. We get a first out. Then we walk a runner. Their slugger Sammy hits a towering shot to centerfield. Nathan moves under it and makes the catch. Two outs. Runner moves up on a passed ball. Emmett's very active back there and making a lot of saves, but Jallah is in and out of the strike zone. Every at bat seems to be going to full count. Ball, ball, foul tip, ball, strike. Runner at third with two outs. Ball in the dirt squirts away, but Emmett gets it quickly, and Jallah's right at the plate to cover. They don't send the runner. We get a strikeout. No runs scored.

Bottom of the fifth, Reed leading off. Reed gets behind in the count, and then hits one through the infield. Eian looks hapless in his at bat, he's quickly down 0-2. The umpire has been consistent all game, but he's been calling a strike at the ankles which is flummoxing our hitters. We're getting that same call for our pitchers but it's definitely hard to hit that pitch, and it's really too low to be a strike. Eian digs in. Fouls off a pitch. Takes a close one for a ball. Fouls off a pitch. Pitch in the dirt and Reed moves up. Count goes full. Another pitch in the dirt, and Reed moves to third, and Eian has earned a very difficult walk. I'm the first base coach in this inning. They send Eian, who moves slower than the average pensioner. Eian toddles into second uncontested. We have runners at second and third with one out. We're down two. This is our chance. Joaquin and Emmett are both excellent contact hitters. One clean single can even it up. Even a grounder will score a huge run. Joaquin is up. There's a pitch in the dirt that gets away and Reed steals home. Then Joaquin strikes out looking. Gah! So frustrating. We've got the tying run at third, and just a grounder will even things up. Emmett comes up. He takes an easy first strike right over the plate. NOOOOOO! You've got to swing at that one. Next pitch is low and away, but is called for a strike. Fuck. Emmett takes a pitch. Works the count to 2-2, and then watches strike three without a swing. FUCK!

He walks back to the dugout. "What are you doing! You have *got* to cover the plate in that situation. You cannot be taking on anything close!" He gives me a dirty look.

He's sitting on the bench looking very disgruntled, when I remind him that he needs to suit up in his catcher's gear for the last inning. White Sox get a strikeout to end the inning. We only get one run out of a second and third with nobody out situation.

After five innings, it's White Sox 6, Mets 5.

Jallah goes out to pitch the sixth inning, which is the last. We still have last ups. I walk Emmett towards the plate where he's going to catch. "You need to focus and stop every pitch in the dirt. We can't let them score this inning." He's still pissed at me and gives me a shove away without saying anything. Okay. Fair enough. The sixth is much like the fifth inning. Jallah gets an out after battling to find the strike zone. Emmett's leaping around making saves and catches. We get an out. They get a runner. The runner moves up to second. We get another out without the runner advancing.

So it's still top of the sixth, man on second, two outs. It's another long at bat. Throw in the dirt. Emmett scrambles after it. Their runner gets a late break, but the coach is yelling for him to get down to third. Emmett comes up with the ball and fires it down to third. Tony makes the catch, lays down the tag and gets the runner on the foot. Emmett shot down the runner to make the last out in the top of the sixth. He comes running off the field all smiles and jumps into my arms.

Jallah has given us three quality innings, only giving up one run. It's huge.

Bottom of the sixth, White Sox 6, Mets 5. Our last chance. Dario leads off, then it's top of the order with Nathan. They're still pitching Noah - their best player and one of the best players in our league. I'm the third base coach. Now, surprisingly, I'm not feeling all that dire at this point. Because Jallah has given us three strong innings, which means we never had to use Eian. Which means if we lose, we can come back on Friday and pitch Emmett and Eian and still have a really good chance.

Also, I know two things about this particular match-up of Noah vs. Dario. Noah has been getting a lot of low-ball called strikes, but Dario is a free-swinger who has a real talent for reaching down and hitting nine-iron shots off the top of his shoes. Dario's this gangly, freckly kid. Fast, and with good reflexes, but hasn't played a lot of organized baseball. He looked kind of helpless at the beginning of the season, but he's definitely the most improved player over the course of the season. He had a huge hit for us in our win against the Rockies. We absolutely need for him to get on base. His helmet's too big and kind of flops down over his eyes. He bats left-handed. On the third pitch he shoots a hard shot right over the third base bag - it's fair! It should be extra bases! I look down the first baseline and Dario is jogging slowly to first, very content with his single. Go, go go! We're yelling. He looks up, surprised, as he rounds first, and trots rather slowly a third of the way to second. GO!!!!!! He turns it on just as their left fielder (who overran the ball) picks it up. But the leftfielder throws to the cut-off man, instead of to second base, and Dario does (barely) make it into second. Phew.

Okay. Man on. No outs. Top of the order coming up. Nathan up. He hasn't been hitting much lately. He's down in the count. He takes a close pitch. He makes contact and hits a grounder to short. Dario starts to run into the play, but is smart enough to hold at second base. The shortstop throws to first, but it tails away and gets past their first baseeman. I get Dario down to third, and Nathan's safe at first. It's cat and mouse time again. Jallah is up. Pitch gets away. I desperately need Dario to score to tie up the game. Look for a chance, I tell him. Don't get doubled off. Tag up on a fly ball. Blah blah blah. Dario's nodding, and his helmet's flopping down over his eyes. Nathan's at second now. Jallah strikes out, flailing at a low pitch way out of the strikezone. Two on, bottom of the sixth. One out. We're down by one run. Reed comes to the plate.

First pitch, and Reed pulls it hard, but foul. Next pitch a ball in the dirt. Go! No Stay! The ball bounces right back to the catcher. Aghhhhhh! We just need to tie it up.

I'm talking to Dario the whole time. Noah winds up, and fires a hard one, right over the plate and Reed crushes the ball. It makes a gorgeous, long arc to deep center field. I see it's going to drop. Go, go go! Dario goes in to score the tying run, and Nathan's almost to third. I look out to center and their fielder is just picking up the ball. Go, go, go! I'm windmilling my arm so hard and jumping up and down, sending Nathan in. All the parents on the Mets side are standing up and screaming. I'm hopping and hopping and hopping with my arms in the air as Nathan scores the winning run.

Pandemonium! Our whole dugout crashes out onto the field, tackling Reed and jumping all around. Emmett comes running at me and flies into my arms, and I swing him around and around and around in centerfield. Sheer jubilation. On our side. On the White Sox side - absolute devastation. We give them a quick cheer and go to shake their hands at home plate, and every single playeer on their team has tears in his eyes and they can barely stand to shake our hands. Noah's openly weeping. It's tough. They're an excellent team and played well. Interestingly, they made the finals by having two come-from-behind, last inning wins where their opponents had victory slip away at the end.

We wander around the outfield feeling dazed and drained and giddy. The parents join us and are jabbering away. It was an unbearably tense game for them to watch. Reed gets the game ball by unanimous proclamation. A spontaneous, "Dario! Dario! Dario!" cheer goes up from the team. What a fucking a game. We take a team picture in front of the outfield scoreboard with the final score, White Sox 6, Mets 7. The only time we were in the lead was when we won the game. We're the champs.

Tags: , ,
12:39 pm: Championship Game Tonight
So we're 3-0 in the playoffs now, and we play the White Sox for the championship of our Triple-A league tonight.

Since it's a double elimination tournament and they're 2-1, they have to beat us tonight and tomorrow to win the championship. We only have to win tonight to close it out.

If we don't win tonight, however, we'll be in dire shape for the Friday game since we may wind up being without both Jallah and Eian. Which combined with various pitching limits and our catching corps would have us playing not only without their bats and arms but have multiple players out of position. You really don't want somebody catching your championship game that has only caught one inning all season.

So it's kind of do or die tonight. We've beaten the White Sox twice this year - once was a serious thumping. But they've got depth (if not dominance) in their pitching, and they're well coached, and sound defensively, and they've got a few potent bats which can do damage. Anything can happen in baseball.

Wish us luck at 5:30 PST.

Current Music: Tom Waits live at the Paramount 1999

June 13th, 2006

12:30 am: Little League Playoff Update
Game 2 of the Playoffs against the Twins (on Sunday):

Emmett *almost* made two great defensive plays, both while playing first base. He stretched to maximum capacity to try to get a wide throw from short by Reed but just got pulled off (Reed had made an excellent play on a ball up the middle). And Emmett came charging hard on a short pop foul with bases loaded and one out in the last inning, but just missed the ball as he slid into the fence. A for effort anyway.

Otherwise he hit pretty well, and scored two runs - the last one being a difference maker. It was a total nailbiter where Eian (the manager's son) went out to pitch the last inning with a 7-4 lead. Got one out among several walks and dinker doink hits and while we still had the lead, started to lose his shit and cry on the mound. (This is about when Emmett went into the fence to try and get the foul pop.) Then the Twins hit a fly ball into left and one of our shakier fielders, Morgan, came in and made a knee-high save for the out. It was 7-6 with the bases loaded when Eian finally struck out the last batter. So much pressure! I thought Elliott, Eian's dad, was going to have a stroke when Eian (usually our best control picture) started throwing pitches in the dirt.

Low point in the game for Emmett was when he got picked off second. Sooooo embarassing. He was in denial about it ("I was on the bag!") but I was third base coach and he wasn't. He was just standing there thinking he was on the bag and it looked terrible because we had the bases loaded and were threatening. After a little cry he got over it and got his head back in the game and played pretty well. It was really the only detrimental play he's made in about ten games and he did a good job of getting back into the game and playing well for the rest. You've gotta bounce back in baseball, because there's plenty of failure.

Game 3 of the Playoffs against the Rockies (on Monday):

It was a wild, fraught, see-saw, all hitting, all weird plays, shabby pitching, clutch hitting, slug fest. Emmett went 2-2 with two walks, scoring three times. He crushed a massive double into the left field corner in his first at bat. Which we totally needed because they got 4 runs in the first.

In our first ups, our speedy leadoff player, Nathan, twisted his wrist on the first swing, and had to come out. We substituted Albert, who is a big, strong, not particularly fast kid. He hasn't had a hit in several games, but drilled a single, advanced on a ground out, stole third on a passed ball and came home on the overthrow. Pretty much what Nathan would've done.

So the score was 4-0, with them up. Reed pitched the first three innings, but they still scored 4 in the first on two walks a hit, a hit batsman and lots of passed balls while Eian was catching. Then it was 4-1 thanks to Albert. 4-2 because of Emmett's double.

Then we had the bases loaded with no outs. Our batter hit a soft liner, and their pitcher (a rather portly kid, named Bob) made a great running nab on it and doubled off our runner at third. So it looked like they were going to turn a bases loaded, no-out situation into a crushing reversal. Then Dario came up and hit a gorgeous double into the gap scoring two to tie it. It was such a huge hit.

So it was 4-4. Then we went up big, scoring 7 runs to go up 11-4. Their pitcher, Julien (on Emmett's tournament team) walked us and threw wild pitches in the dirt and we scampered around stealing bases and coming in from third. 11-5, they scratch out a run against Jallah pitching. They scored six in the top of the fifth inning to tie it up at 11 all. Half of that was on Jallah, and then Eian was on the mound and gave up the massive double (by Bob, the portly pitcher) that pulled them within one. Then, while that play was still live, Eian didn't get on the rubber and the tying run came in on a not-paying-attention steal. Eian started to meltdown, but held it together to get a strikeout and stop the bleeding. Tie game.

Bottom of the fifth, we get two men on (Jallah and Reed) and Eian blasts a shot into the gap for two RBIs. We squeeze out an extra run. We're up three.

Top of the sixth, Eian walks a batter. Then he gets a comebacker, a litle dribble hit directly to him and fails to field the ball. One of those nightmare situations where you're groping in the grass and it should be an easy out and it's NOT. Two men on with no outs. It's got all the makings of a horrible meltdown. (The Rockies are the team who beat us early in the season by scoring 17 runs in their last at bats against us to take the lead and beat us. Half the team is composed of players from Emmett's Double-A team, so I know them all well.) Eian's fighting back the tears, but he's mostly throwing strikes. Another dribbler ground ball to Nathan at first base. He gets the out. Passed ball and both runners move up. They've got men on second and third with one out. Eian gets a strikeout. Two outs. Huge! They're still threatening. Wild pitch, Jallah is catching and scrambles after the ball. Runner breaks for home, Jallah diving back and gets the game ending out. Phewwwwwww! Pandemonium!

So we're sitting in the catbird seat right now. The team we beat tonight (Rockies) is still in the tournament. Tomorrow they play the team we beat in the last regular season game (White Sox, managed incidentally by Marcelo - Emmett's Tournament team manager). The winner of that faces us on Thursday. If we win on Thursday, we're the champs. If we lose, we play again on Friday. Which is Emmett's last day of school, and we've got A's tickets. Since there are limits on how many innings a pitcher can pitch in a week, whichever team we face on Thursday will be more depleted than we are.

It was such a wild, sloppy game with coaches tearing their hair out, and scoring corrections and complaints and tension and barking and oy. It was kind of stressful. Less for me than my fellow coaches, though. Chris and Elliott were both suffering serious high blood pressure in that last inning.

June 10th, 2006

12:19 am: End of Season, Beginning of Playoffs
So the Triple A Mets finished up with a couple wins which put us in second place by the end of the season. Emmett pitched the last inning of the last regular season game and finished with a flourish: strikeout, pop-up (that he fielded), strikeout.

Playoffs are double elimination, and we had our first playoff game yesterday. Reed finally pitched to his own standard and basically mowed down the opposition for three innings. It was both awesome and deadly boring since he struck just about everybody out. Jallah pitched for an inning and 2/3rds, and had the two big hits of the game - ringing doubles into the gap. Eian came on in relief of Jallah and shut-down a bases loaded situation, then drilled through 1-2-3 sixth inning and we beat the tough Devil Rays handily.

Emmett caught several innings (and was good back there, though nothing spectacular to report. Still, we scored about four runs on their catcher's misplays, so making no mistakes at catcher is huge). He made contact in all four at bats - but only got two hits. Still they were both RBI hits (he's hiting sixth now), and he also came around to score.

We're limited to how many innings Reed or Eian can pitch during the playoffs (not more than six innings in a week). I expect we'll burn through Reed and Eian for two more innings each in tomorrow's game and then hope that Emmett and Jallah and either Morgan or Nathan can carry us on Sunday's game. Should be enough. Emmett and Jallah are as good as most teams' #2 pitcher.

Current Location: nerd-hole
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May 31st, 2006

10:39 pm: Triple A Roundup
Hmmm, looking at my previous Triple-A assessment is interesting in retrospect.

Emmett's pitching problem was basically that he'd invented a new windup in the offseason ("It looks cooler!") and was much less effective. We want back to his old fashioned (like from the 30s) high windup with his arms pumped over his head and shorter leg kick and voila! he was in the stike zone again.

Hitting was exactly the same problem we had in transitioning from Single-A to Double-A: he'd grown so much he needed a new bat. I coughed up a $100 for the extra special bat that just felt the best - 2 inches longer and half an ounce lighter. Suddenly four other kids on the Mets were borrowing Emmett's bat too. And they started hitting as well.

Also, I started wearing my lucky shoes and we had a three game winning streak to even our record at 4-4. The interesting thing about this team is that just about everybody had *something* to offer. Morgan couldn't hit a lick, but early in the season he was our go-to guy for middle relief. He'd come in and throw strikes instead of walking people and keep us in the game. Joaquin started making some very sharp plays in the field and became a very effective RBI producer in the five slot. Liam and Tony were making plays in the outfield. Dario surprised us with some plays from third, and the occasional key hit.

Emmett's hitting slump got so bad (no hits for about three games) that he got dropped in the batting order. I was very proud of him that he didn't pout about it but came back with some key hits in that game from lower in the order. (This was shortly after we got the new bat.) Emmett's pitching slowly got better too. He wasn't quite in the form he had been last year where he was pounding the strike zone relentlessly with fastballs, but he was poised and around the plate and good enough to be effective. He got moved back to leadoff.

He started hitting better, particularly with men in scoring position. Nothing exciting, just sharply hit grounders through the infield. Elliott, our manager, loves Emmett behind the plate so he often spent two or three innings back there. Which, exactly as I learned last year, was very helpful to the team, but left very little to report about Emmett's defensive prowess. He did get adept at catching foul-tip third strikes, which isn't easy. I pointed out how Jason Kendall and Mike Matheny (A's and Giants catchers, respectively) didn't so much squat as crouch. Emmett started doing that (it's *very* hard on your quads) and was soooo much more mobile behind the plate.

The Reds have the best record in Triple-A this year and we came up *just short* - losing to them in two games. Otherwise we were up and down. We'd pound one team for 20 runs and then cough up the lead in the last inning the next game while making stupid baserunning errors. Eian hit two home runs. One them was a MASSIVE shot that cleared our fence, then the 15 foot high fence of the practice diamond, landing near the pitcher's mound in the next field. The more I got to know Eian the more I liked him. He's Elliot's son and an excellent pitcher and hitter, but he's very heavy and can barely run and get around the bases. He had a bit of a chip on the shoulder as the season began but I've come to appreciate his sense of humor (and I think he appreciates mine as well now).

Reed continues to be (as JZ's mom put it while watching a game) "a very sophisticated player." It's always weird when he comes off the field, where he moves with the confidence of a tiger, and suddenly he's goofy and ten again.

The weekend tournament has made me revise my opinon of Emmett again. Last year in Double-A he was dominating toward the end of the season. This year it hasn't been that way, and with Reed on view every game I didn't really peg Emmett that high. He was good but not elite. But then Emmett turned around and was absolutely dominant in all phases during the weekend tournament. So I think I need to back up and remind myself that he's 9, playing with 10-12 year olds in Triple A for the most part. Put him back playing with his age group and he's kicking ass.

The Mets are probably a game above .500 at this point. We've got games on Friday and Sunday and that's it for the regular season. We wound up losing 5 games from an 18 game season due to rain in March. There will be a Triple-A tournament for The Mets and we'll have one last chance to show off our talent. I think we're pretty competitive with the top teams so it will depend on how our pitching comes up for the last games. Reed's slowly mastered his arm as the season went out (he throws extremely hard but has a hard time pulling it into the strike zone. When he does, it's lights out. Sort of like the young Koufax. Except Reed's a rightie.) Eian was dominant as our closing pitcher early in the season, always throwing strikes and almost throwing as hard as Reed (except when Reed really wanted to blow one by). But Eian wobbled a bit late in the season. Jallah has developed into a very good pitcher and all-around player. I'm really glad we chose him for the team. He had a bit of a reputation that kept other coaches from drafting him, but he's been splendid for us. Serious and intent and full effort. So if Emmett can take his tournament success back to the Mets for their last games we could be formidable.

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04:14 pm: Tournament Season
I'll give a rundown on our first baseball tournament of the year, then go back and catch up on our abbreviated Triple-A season.

Emmett plays for The Mets in Triple A in the Albany Little League. He's also on the traveling tournament team for 9 y.o.'s, the Albany Eagles. The tournament season overlaps just a bit with the regular season, but basically runs through the summer as different communities host their kid sized baseball tournaments. It's not just Little League but Pony League and JOBL and it's a different world for me. For one thing, I get dragged off to outlying communities in which I have very little interest like Concord and Fremont and Burlingame. I think of these excursions as traveling to The Land of the Tri-Tip. It's all about the tri-tip steak sandwiches out there for reasons which are mysterious to me.

The Eagles first tournament was in Sacramento over Memorial Day weekend. This is the only tourney where we stay overnight since Sacto is just outside a comfortable daily driving range (about 90 minutes one way if you're lucky). Most of the kids stayed in a hotel with their coaches and families, but we stayed with my best man, Alex, his girlfriend of many years Kris and their 18 month old baby daughter, India. We'd stopped by to see them on our way back from Tahoe this winter so Emmett and JZ already feel comfortable with them. They came out to the games and supported us, and gave us a place to flop. Emmett and Alex and I had Nerf dart-gun wars in the front yard around the inflatable baby pool. After our first game, we attended a cookout with their friends who had a gorgeous little pool. Emmett spent the entire four hours in the pool (especially impressive since he can't really swim yet). What did they serve at the cookout? Tri-Tip! Very tasty.

There are times when your life seems to telescope and time contracts, and I had that moment watching Emmett play in the pool with Alex while I dandled baby India on my knee. I've known Alex since we were 15 years old. We went to college together, drove across country together. He lived with me and my parents for part of high school. It was his girlfriend I was hugging at the moment my Mom died. I've watched him and Kris both struggle to sobriety and rebuilding their lives over the course of their 20 year relationship. He was the best man at both my weddings. My friendship with Alex is so wrapped up with the core of me, with the beginnings of my adult self. It was odd and beautiful to sit there with his pretty babygirl in my lap while he swam up and down the pool carrying Emmett on his broad did-the-butterfly-in-high school swimmer's back.

First game was mid-day Saturday. Gah! Our manager, Marcelo, picked Emmett to be the first pitcher in the first game. It's always stressful watching your kid pitch, but it seems harder when they start the game. Emmett gave up a hit to the first batter. Then struck out the side. First time he's done that this year. I should note that our team was the only 9 y.o. team in the tourney. All the other teams were 9-10. After that I don't remember much except that Emmett made two excellent plays at second base in one inning. One was a hard shot which took a freaky bounce off a pebble and almost took his head off. He snatched it anyway and made the play. Next ball was hard hit and low. It's very common to shy off a grounder after you've handled a bad hop but Emmett stayed down on it and got the out again.

Emmett hit pretty well in the first game, continuing the trend he's had with the Mets of hitting hard grounders through the middle or the hole to get on. He knocked in the tying run with two outs, which would've been more significant if we didn't go on to win 12 to 3. The pitching requirements in these tourneys are difficult to finesse. This one had strict rules about who could pitch and when, so Marcelo used one pitcher per inning in the first game. We're fortunate to have six guys who can pitch on our team (LL games are six innings long, incidentally). The rule was that if pitcher a threw more than one inning then he couldn't pitch the next day. Very tricky in a three day tournament.

After the first game we went to the cookout with the pool and the tri-tip, then back to Alex & Kris place where Emmett made them watch Invader Zim.

Sunday we had two games. The first was at 8am. We had to be there at 7am for warmups. Ugh. We played a team called the White Sox and they were excellent. We played them even-up for five innings. It was tied 4-4 when we went into the sixth. Early in the game Emmett hit the ball harder than I've seen him hit it all year. A screaming liner that went 155 feet on the fly, took one bounce and went over the fence for a ground-rule double, scoring two runs in front of him. Their team was well-coached and talented - though a bit bigger than we were. They had a girl on their team playing catcher and firstbase and she was one of the best catchers I've seen at this level. Not only an excellent receiver but she had a gun for an arm and picked off one of our players at second base. She was tall and strongly built - pretty, with brown wavy hair pulled back in a ponytail. Good hitter too.

The whole game was extremely well played and had many excellent defensive plays and timely hits. Our left fielder caught a ball going over his head, and two pitches later our right fielder made a running shoe string grab coming in. Then they threw out one of our runners at home the next inning on a relay play. They scored two in the third. We fought back and went ahead on Emmett's ground rule double. They scratched back and took the lead. It was 4-3 when Marcelo brought Emmett in to pitch the fifth. First pitch and the batter pops up high and shallow, in the difficult to cover area between catcher, pitcher and third baseman. Emmett called off his teammates and made a reaching nab for the first out. Second pitch and an easy groundout to second. Amazing pitching efficiency! Next batter walks. Next batter drills a clean double into the gap and it's first and third. On the steal, our catcher foolishly throws down and they steal home on the back end. Stupid! Next batter hits a soft liner to our third baseman. Easy out! Except...not. He drops the ball. Then neglects to tag the runner right in front of him. Terrible. But Emmett maintains his poise and strikes out the next batter. All tied up.

Then they scored three runs in the top of the sixth, all well earned with rocketing shots to the gaps. We couldn't catch them in the bottom of the sixth and we lost 7-4. Some of our guys were crying - it was a really hard fought game until we made some defensive lapses. Still, it really was a pleasure to watch and Emmett had been nails. JZ was getting a big ol' parental crush on Emmett again, just watching him be so poised and strong and on top of the game.

Our next game wasn't until 3:30 so we went back to Alex and Kris' place and shot each other with Nerf-darts. Emmett crashed and napped on the way back. Back to the fields for our second game of the day by 2:30 after we'd lunched. JZ's cousin Gia, and Gia's daughter Nicole - who live in Sacramento - came out to our afternoon game. They had attended our wedding and we'd put teen gothlet Nicole at Jilli and Ple's table. Emmett and Nicole had bonded strongly over the family Easter celebrations so it was lovely to see them. Also, the ten year old Tournament team from Albany was hanging around and that included players from Emmett's teams from this year and last. So we had Eian and Nathan from this year's Mets, and Eli from last year's Angels. It was great having them sitting in the stands rooting Emmett on.

He responded in force by absolutely crushing the ball all game. He's been batting second with the Eagles this year. Matthew got on first with a clean, sharp single. Emmett smoked a line drive right at the third baseman, who dropped the ball, but had the presence to force Matthew at second. So Emmett was at first. Then Jack, our catcher and slugger came up. Jack is Coach Wayne's son (and we love coach Wayne). Jack's a tall, strong, freckly faced, flop haired boy. One of Emmett's good friends at school. He'd been slumping a little bit lately, but came up and got every bit of a pitch, driving it deep into center. Emmett took off running, got waved in and scored from first on Jack's double. We batted around that inning. Next time up Emmett walked, and Jack hit a triple. Emmett again scored all the way from first. We batted around in that inning. Next time up, Emmett scorches yet another liner - a real Willie McCovey job - into the deepest gap toward center. He rounds second and the coach is wheeling him into third, but telling him to get down. Emmett slides in ahead of the throw, the ball gets away and Emmett comes into score. A triple with an overthrow error, but his teammates all run out to mob him at home plate like it's a home run and his friends are all yelling in the stands we've got about seven people just in our group whoooping and hollering.

At that point, I got him a root beer and went with Nicole to deliver it to the dugout. He was red-faced and winded, but had a big smile when he saw Nicole. They traded Tombstone quips (She muttered, "You ain't no Daisy!" at the pitcher when Emmett his his triple). He played centerfield for much of the rest of the game and ended two innings on flyballs out there. He also did an excellent job of cutting off two hits in the outfield to stop the runners from taking second - one time making a very flashy bare handed grab-and-throw after a high bounce. I almost forgot - Emmett made a great play at shortstop too, nailing a runner at the plate on a relay throw from centerfield. It was a particularly tough play because the ump and the pitcher were between him and the catcher so he had to turn and throw the ball up and over them but with as little arc as possible. Jack showed great concentration by following the ball, making the catch and getting down the tag. We won the second game 18-8 and fully expected to go to the championship rounds on Monday.

Alas, another team that went 2-1 had a better tiebreaker (which was based on runs-allowed, instead of run-differential. I think we would've gone forward if it had been run-differential). The kids were bummed but they played exceptionally well - particularly against teams of 9-10 y.o.s. And Emmett played his best baseball of the year by far. (This will become more apparent after I update on the Triple-A season.)

Your 2006 Albany Eagles (That's Emmett's dyspeptic "I hate getting my picture taken" face. He's far left back row, of course. Jack is second from the right, back row. Matthew - Marcelo's son - is second from the right, front row.)

Emmett in his Mets uni

Current Music: Slim Gaillard
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April 30th, 2006

08:55 am: Little League 2006
Our Little League season finally got underway after getting rained out for the entire month of March. Emmett's in Triple-A this year, which is a step up and another adjustment for him. I got roped into coaching again, which I will definitely not be doing next year. I do enjoy it, but it's a huge time commitment (particularly adding on to my commute since I have all these extra days I have to travel to the East Bay for games and practices). Also, Triple-A is advanced enough that you don't get the same upward curve in coaching you get with the younger kids. There's less opportunity to guide a player from gormless to great. They all have a notion how to play by now.

Emmett and his best friend, Preston, are the youngest guys on the team at age 9. The oldest is Joaquin who is 12. This is a huge difference in age to wrangle. Most of the kids are 10-11. Actually the best player on the team (perhaps the best in the league), Reed, is also 9 - though he's about to turn 10. Two weeks ago he hit a homerun at South Field - something no 9 y.o. had ever done before in the 40 odd years of Little League in Albany. Last week he hit back to back homeruns. Centerfield fence is about 200 feet away, so these are massive shots and really impressive at this level.

We have two players from our team last year on the Mets this year. Nathan and Albert. Nathan's a skinny little multi-skilled speedster. Maybe the fastest kid in Triple-A. Albert's a big, strong, easy going, easy-to-coach, slow slugger.

Emmett's gotten off to a slow start again this year, particularly with pitching. His first outing was his worst ever and he kept throwing pitch after pitch into the dirt. We'd spent most of the rainy month of March doing pitching sessions, so this was unexpected. It's not the physical act of throwing the ball - it's that he has to relearn how to pitch on a mound, in a game, pressure situation. It's about maintaining composure, breathing between pitches, pulling yourself together after a bad call, fighting back to find the strike zone.

Pitching's hard. Last year at Double-A they still had coach-pitch when the kid pitchers went to four balls. I wound up doing most of coach pitching last year and there were excruciating periods where I couldn't find the strike zone. Put me on a field warming up and I could throw a strike 95% of the time. In a game? Oy, the veil of self-consciousness comes down and your body and mind are at war.

Anyway, Emmett's gotten a bit better in his last couple outings, though nowhere near where he was a the end of last season or during the tournament season.

Emmett's been the leadoff hitter. First game he had two hits and two walks, scored four times. Then he got very passive at the plate - which was okay because he was getting a lot of walks. But then he started watching too many strikes go by and was striking out. Very unusual for him since he's really a contact hitter. Finally in the last game he took a more aggressive approach and drilled a pretty single into center.

It's almost like relearning the game for him every season. There are the physical skills, and then there's learning how to manage them in a game situaition.

On the plus side, the manager, Eliott and the other coach Chris (Reed's dad) both love Emmett as the catcher. He's very active back there and aggressive about stopping the opposing baserunners. At this level there's not much limit on the stealing, so if your catcher can't keep the ball in front of himself, you're going to give up a ton of runs.

Our last game was a heartbreaker. We played the Rockies - who have five players from my Double-A Team The Angels, last year. Eli's gotten so much better. He's now a superior shortstop and hit two line drives over our centerfielder's head. Anyway, we were down. We fought back. Finally took the lead on Reed's two homeruns. Went into the last inning (6th) just needing 3 outs to close the game out. And then we gave up 17 runs. There are two slaughter rules at this level, but they don't apply in the last inning. 1) no more than five runs in an inning; 2) if one team is up by more than 10 runs after 4 innings the game is over. 17 runs. It was a nightmare.

It was very disheartening. Poor Nathan (a sensitive kid to start with) was on the mound and walked and walked and walked baserunners. Then he started serving up soft batting practice pitches that were crushed to all corners of the outfield. We finally pulled him and he kept it together until he got to the dugout and started crying. He was still down at our practice the next day too.

So our record is at 1-3. Two of those games we should've won, but had meltdown innings. Oh well, our team has talent and I think we'll get back on track. I think Emmett will be pitching at least an inning today so I hope he can get into his groove.

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April 13th, 2006

08:49 am: ...and for my next trick
So worklife is receding in the rear view mirror, and while I have a few phantom limb pains and pangs, I'm glad to have the time to work on the book and reconsider how my life is structured.

I've started writing the book and I'm pleased with what I've got so far. I don't want a straightforward journalistic recounting of the making of Swordfishtrombones. That feels inadequate with Tom Waits. He can't even give a straightforward interview. He's a crooked man who's walked a crooked path and I intend to use that. There's a mythos in his work that I want to evoke. I want to follow all the intriguing associations I get from his work. I intend to write about Joseph Cornell's basement and George Herriman's desert and Edgar Ulmer's career and Pere Jules in L'Atalante and the whaling church in Moby Dick and the way Edward Gorey dressed for the ballet.

I want the language to be rich and concrete and earthy and a bit dark and also very comic. There's a "thinginess" to TW's lyrics that I want to reflect in the writing. (In short, less latinate and more anglo saxon.) I'm using At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien and A Confederacy of Dunces as linguistic touchstones. Also Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts (less earthy but honed and dark), and Stanley Elkin's The Magic Kingdom (long spiels and riffs like a Catskills comic storyteller lifted to High Literary Prose). I plan to steal the index structure from The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles Finney.

One of the best things about this project is that I'm given a tremendous amount of latitude in how I do the book. I'm feeling ambitious about it and confident I can create something that's going to require everything I've got and more. It's thrilling to reach beyond my scope. I want push myself to a higher level as a writer.

Lost in the Grooves was a very satisfying project. I think Kim and I were able to achieve the book we had envisioned. But for my part, the accomplishment was in the editing and putting the whole thing together. I didn't feel like I did my best writing (largely because I was plugging gaps that I felt were necessary for the breadth of the book). I'm ready to flex that muscle again.

March 30th, 2006

05:40 pm: They snuck in and cut off my computer
I'm fired now. Two weeks severance. Fortunately I had almost a month's worth of vacation to cashout.

They were so weasley. They cut off my network access and turned off my computer in the fifteen minutes I was in their office getting canned.

"IT will be happy to take any photos you want to get off your computer and burn them to a disk." Right.

I told them that when they wipe my computer they were going to lose a lot of key data. She nodded sagely and said she'd get IT right on that. They don't fucking know what they need to get. They have no idea.

My performance was inconsistent they averred.

God they were shitty. I didn't say goodbye to anybody in my group. I just got my umbrella and left. (I'd cleaned out my desk weeks ago.)

March 29th, 2006

04:04 pm: It is to laugh
So, I heard from my inside source.

Nice boss isn't so nice. She's lying through her teeth.

Basically they're having a hard time getting their shit together. They *were* going to do it this week, but NotNice Boss was sick and they weren't sure if she'd be in the office at the end of the week to handle it.

Since LA Boss is going to be up here anyway, why wouldn't she do it? Speculation (from source) - she's chickenshit.

They're being so shitty about it. Plus inept!

Oh well. If it rolls over into next week then I'll get benefits coverage through April.

11:14 am: Gah!
Went in to nice boss' office and asked her point blank if I'm losing my job.

She said (and I quote), "I'm looking you right in the eye and I don't know anything about that."

LA Boss comes up tomorrow.

Possibilities:

(1) My source is wrong. Very unlikely. She heard it directly from one of my other bosses.

(2) My nice boss is out of the loop. Perhaps, as has been suggested, for plausible deniability.

(3) They're planning on keeping me through April. Definitely possible since one person in our unit is going to be gone all April so we'll be short-handed. Also, would allow the new co-worker to get up to speed. Also, they could do it as part of the evaluation cycle.

I don't know. I'm whipsawed and stressed and tired now. Maybe they're keeping me through April. Maybe LA Boss will drop the news on nice boss tomorrow.

I don't fucking know.

March 28th, 2006

09:45 pm: The reason why...
The reason why work has felt like it's in a weird space is because I'm going to be fired this Friday. Hmph.

They don't know that I know. And I've been a total stressball the last couple weeks, and I'm tired of my supervisors lying to me about it.

At first I thought about calling in sick on Friday, but now I think I'll just go into my boss tomorrow and say, "I'm getting very stressed having you lie to me every day. I'm glad to wrap things up with you and show you the stuff you need to know, but I'm tired of this bullshit. Or if you don't want me here, I've got some sick days I can take but this portion of the pretending is over. Make a call."

Basta.

March 17th, 2006

10:21 am: Rained Out
A lot of our Little League practices have been rained out, and it looks like our first game tomorrow will be too. But we've had enough practices to get to know the kids and I like our team. Triple-A is oddly in-between because you get both advanced 9 year-olds and some not-that-great 12 year olds. That's quite a range. But even a not-great 12 y.o. has had plenty of experience playing baseball, so the overall level of competence is much higher than Double-A. I'm really getting to like our manager Elliot and my co-coach, Chris. Good guys, and real baseball fans. I was wrong incidentally in some of my early assessments of Reed and Chris from back on the tournament team. Close up, Reed is not quite the boy scout I had him pegged as. Not that he's bad by any means, but he's a little cockier and more of a cut-up than I thought. And Chris is way more the sports guy than I had originally thought.

Work's been in an odd space. My minion didn't get hired to replace my Good!Coworker. A decision that didn't happen locally (where my newish manager wanted to hire minion), but by the regional manager in LA. So, my new coworker is here now (and oblivious to all this backstage drama), and we're sorting out job responsibilities and I'm anxious about reviews coming up in April. But my manager seems to like my work and wants me to stay. And we're getting a temp in next week to help clean up all the files - which is where I usually fall off. So I'll have help getting my house in order, and with any luck can switch off doing the recruiting work (with Bad!Boss) to the new coworker. Anyway, it's all up in the air. I am having lunch today with my old Good!Boss - looking forward to that.

I haven't done much on my new book yet. It's going to be tricky finding a space to focus on writing during the little league baseball season which eats up so much of my off-hours. I really need to shift gears and get into the mindset of writing for the book. This is the first book where it will be all my writing, so I'm looking at it as an opportunity to improve as a writer. Overall, I was very proud of Lost in the Grooves and thought it was my best work as an editor, where Kim gave me a lot of leeway to shape the whole book. But I don't feel like I did my best writing there, and I have big ambitions for this book. It's a rare opportunity to write any book that you know will be published, and I need to rise to it.

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February 13th, 2006

09:56 pm: Feeling a Draft
Last week I sat down in a room at Albany High School (where Emmett's godsister goes, and where he'll likely go in about five years) with Chris (other coach) and Eliot (manager) and a room full of other coaches and managers and we did the Triple A draft for this year's Little League. It was funny seeing Marcelo and Wayne and Fred (other coaches and parents I know from the Tournament team) as the opposing coaches.

What a weird concept.

On the one hand, there's the odd element of being extremely judgmental about these kids and their abilities (there were charts that ranked them top to bottom in all skills. I could literally count exactly where Emmett stood as a matter of consensus among the coaches). On the flipside, there was a constant undercurrent of picking kids you liked no matter what their ability because they tried hard and were fun to be around. One thing you get with coaching is you really get to know these kids, and you come to appreciate their worthy virtues.

Chris' son Reed, is ranked third overall in the draft. He was definitely the best player on Emmett's tournament team, and he's only 9 1/2, so he's younger than the 1-2 ranked players. Eian, Eliot's son, is ranked in the second round (still very high). He's a big kid (probably the biggest in Triple A), and a power hitter and a catcher and a pitcher. Not fast. In fact, by even his father's account, one of the slowest kids out there. But a thumper, and that's nice to have at this level.

We took Nathan with our first pick. He was on Emmett's team last year. Nathan's a tremendous natural athlete - definitely the fastest kid in Double A last year, and will certainly be one of the fastest kids in Triple A also. Nathan's also a tremendous infielder, which means we've got three top ranked defensive infielders with Reed, Nathan and Emmett.

We got Jallah with our next pick. He's a kid I've known from Emmett's playground since Emmett started elementary school. Very intense, and an excellent, extremely competitive athlete. He can be moody and has a temper (I once had to peel him off of another kid during a school yard fight, and Jallah knows karate so he was doing some whupping). He's a year older than Emmett and played in Triple A last year (as did Eian and Reed), so we were lucky to get such a good player at that level of the draft. I think his reputation scared off some of the other coaches. But that means our top five players are all superior players. That's pretty deep for a Triple A team.

As we got down into the draft we picked mostly kids that had some experience, that we knew were competent in the field. We did pick Albert from last year's Angel's team. There were several other Angels players we tried to get (Eli, Noah, Josh G-W), but they all got snapped up. By the same team! One team (The Rockies) drafted five players from our Angels team of last year (they also took Aidan and Josh G). It's going to be interesting when we play them this year.

On one of our later picks, we took Emmett's best friend Preston. So we've got a very deep team. We were pretty happy with the draft. There are two teams that I think have better 1-2 pitchers than we do, but I think we're a lot deeper, both in talent and pitching. Except for Eian and Albert, we've got a pretty fast, athletic team who can field. And Eian's reputedly a good defensive catcher, and I now Albert can hit the ball hard sporadically. I think (without having any practices yet) that we've got a team like the 1982 Cardinals. Fast and fleet and excellent defensively, with strong but not dominant pitching with one or two big power hitters in the middle. That's a fun team to have.

I emailed our manager last year, Tim, to let him know about the draft. His daughter Emma will be playing another year at Double A. I expect Ellen will do another year in Double A too, unless she just does soccer this year.

Emmett and I are both very excited about the season starting.

January 31st, 2006

10:54 am: Whole new year
Look at that. It's 2006.

Fall of 2005 sucked hard, and I suppose I didn't feel like writing about it. Work stress. Family stress. Sturm and drang.

Drang - now there's a word we need to import into English. It just sounds drangier.

I suppose updates are in order. JZ and I are trying to get pregnant this year. I'll be 45 in June, so this ranks as a fairly nutty plan. But I would very much like to meet the little human that is half JZ and half me. We're both fertile turtles so it should be possible, and lord knows we're willing.

The big news for me is that I'll be writing a book for the Continuum Press 33 1/3 series this year on Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones. Very excited about that.

Emmett's moving up to Triple-A this year. I've seen the draft rankings and he's in the top five for 9 y.o.s. Okay, top three. Anyway, I'm coaching so I already know that our Triple-A Team (the Mets) will have two other top rated players (the sons of the other coach and the manager, respectively), including one of my favorite players from Emmett's tournament team, Reed.

Emmett's been really into baseball history over the last few months and his xmas presents included a vintage Red Sox hat (from the 30s), a San Francisco Seals hat (from the PCL) and the Kansas City Monarchs hat (one of the greatest of the Negro League teams). It's been fun reading him stories about Rabbit Maranville and Rube Marquard and Oscar Charleston.

Work is in a weird space. My Good!Boss quit back in June. It took four months to replace her, during which time my Good!Coworker and I held down the fort. Then a month after we got our new boss, Good!Coworker left. Then the equivalent person in the Palo Alto office left. Which means, I'm one of two people in the SF and PA offices trained on all our myriad, cranky, funky, illogical systems. Feh. The upside is I have a little leverage to re-engineer my job responsibilities to things I prefer. The downside is I'd make more money if I made a lateral move to a different firm. The market in SF has finally picked up and I'm not getting paid commensurate with my skill set.

I felt like I was suspended in aspic until I got the news on the book. Now I've got at least one thing where I know what I'm doing in the next year.

Another big event on the horizon is that Emmett's Mother (EM) will be marrying her longtime boyfriend. He's got kids from his marriage (he's a widower), so that will present a whole new set of complications, including the fact that he doesn't live in Emmett's school district but does own a home. EM wants to keep Emmett in his current school district (which is far better), but I don't even know what's possible there. I'm not ready to be stressed about this until actual decisions have to be made. His kids aren't happy about the marriage, but Emmett is. So complicated.

I can't believe I once spent five years of my life just cruising along, tending to my own interests.

August 25th, 2005

03:07 pm: They Did Dick Grayson Things
JZ is working off our traffic tickets by volunteering at the Circus Center (which is on our block. It is, curiously, a separate institution from Acrosports - also on our block. They are each ensconced in the erstwhile gymnasiums for the Polytechnic High which used to be there. They tore down the high school, put in some housing, and retained the book-ending gyms. Now we have two separate institutions for promoting trapeze work on the same block. Both the SF Circus Center and Acrosports were both started by alumni from the Pickle Family Circus, however, so it's not entirely random.)

The San Francisco Circus Center is hosting a big, national American Youth Circus Organization Festival and so they had a performance last night and we got in for free.

So imagine a pack of early to middle teens, mostly girls, dressed like post apocalyptic glamapunkamuffins. Lots of electronica/ravey music. Some hint of plot about these wild children performing for themselves.

There's all kinds of hoop jumping tumbling. Not just the usual dive and roll stuff. Folks diving backwards through the hoops with their bodies folded at the waist after doing a tumbling run with flip flops. The hoops, incidentally, are held by The Mystic Pixies, young girl contortionists. They are lying on their chests with their legs bent all the way back over their heads, holding the hoops with their feet.

The boys really blew me away though. They did Dick Grayson things. There were four of them, all about 15 or 16. They worked mostly on two tall polls (25 feet high? About 4 feet apart) with a crossbar at the top. They just ran up the poles with hands and feet. Boom - instantly vertical. One guy was so unfuckingbelievably strong. Imagine an OC Ryan type, but with a massively broad chest. Maybe 16. He jumped towards the pole and - just using his arms - swung around in smooth circles all the way up to the top. Can you imagine the power? It was like watching an orang brachiate - except human. Girls in the audience shrieked at that display.

But all the guys were flinging themselves up and down the pole with speed and power and pure confidence. Launching themselves into space fearlessly. Holding their bodies horizontal to the ground, drop-sliding down the pole face first and catching themselves with their calves. It was great watching their teamwork on the teeterboard too. They'd lock into a rhythm, the flyer would signal with his arms, the launchers would step/hop to get rhythm shoot up and come down on the far end of the teeterboard and launch their partner 20 feet into the air where he'd do a one and a half gainer. There were some women launching off the teeterboard too. Very very cool. And JZ told me that their best male acrobat wasn't even performing that night. He can do a one-handed handstand on the back of three stacked balancing chairs.

Another fantastic act was the girl who worked with the two long sashes that hung from the ceiling. She pulled her self up, wrapped herself in them, did death spirals spinning in them and catching herself just at the end. Power and grace.

The Mystic Pixies stomped all over JZ's uncanny valley response. Especially when they'd do that spidery thing where they'd lie on their chests and bring their feet alllllll the way over until they touched the ground by their head. Then they'd run their feet around their bodies. I think her brain was just screaming, "No no no no no!" at that sight. But their act was really cool - much better choreographed than other contortionist acts I've seen. Maybe because I've never seen four contortionists working together.

The SF Circus Center has one of the country's best known trainers, Yu Li, who used to be the artistic director of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe in China. Apparently Cirque De Soleil is always trying to hire him away.

Anyway, these teenagers were unbelievably well trained. It wasn't a flawless performance, and yet it was better than a lot of adult circuses I've seen.

August 9th, 2005

03:54 pm: Falling Into A Deep Catalogue (or, Trollope v. Bronte)
The current issue of Mojo has Dylan's 100 Greatest Songs. (It also has a tiny yet laudatory review of LiTG, but that's not germane. Nor is it Jermaine.)

It's fascinating stuff since they get a wide range of musicians to talk about their favorite songs, and there's so much to choose from out of so many eras and albums. (Elvis Costello's long held opinion that Richard Hell is the smartest man in rock and roll is validated. At least, he had the most interesting things to say about Dylan's songwriting.)

Anyway, the article inspired some thoughts about Bob Dylan, but even more about falling in love with a deep catalogue.

In short, Trollope v. Bronte. If you fall in love with Wuthering Heights that's all you get. You can't get subsumed in it as completely as you can with a bookshelf of Trollope. Of course you can become obsessed with Wuthering Heights and read the biographies and speculate about the juvenalia and read her sisters. One work can certainly do that. And that one work may be far greater. But it's not like falling in love with Dickens. Dickens is big enough to qualify as "the central preoccupation of [your] life." It's a rare gift to fall in love with an artist's work in which you can become completely immersed. Or maybe it's not a gift. I guess it could become a gluttony too.

In general, I've tended to fall in love with small catalogues. Musicians with two or three records. Writers with one or two signal works. And I'm a little jealous of the Trollope fans who have so much to revel in.

I've often thought that the greatest experience would have been as a jazz fan in the fifties and sixties. So many great artists at their peak, so many innovations in a short period of time. So much production! A great jazz musician might release four or five LPs a year back then. Reading Anthony Braxton (a musician and composer) talk about getting new John Coltrane records is like reading about a saint receiving visions from God.

July 19th, 2005

11:12 am: Imprinted On Meeting A Distinct Sensibility
I first encountered this dynamic with Monty Python. People who saw Life of Brian first were convinced it was a better movie as surely as the people who saw Holy Grail as their first Python knew in their bones it was superior. After a while I realized that it was probably that the Python sensibility was so distinctive and unprecedented (unless you were well steeped in British post-war OxBridge humor from Goon Squad on...) that the first time you encountered it you would get rewired by the experience.

This came to mind this morning as I was listening to an R.E.M. collection and remembering with some bogglement that I knew people who thought Document or Fables of the Reconstruction were the best R.E.M. albums. And they *are* excellent albums, but mostly I recalled that people tended to fall in love with their first R.E.M. album no matter which one it was.

I haven't had as much anecdotal evidence but I suspect Jonathan Carroll's novels are similar. At least for me, reading Voice of Our Shadow totally suckerpunched me and caused a Wow sensation. Whereas, Land of Laughs (which he wrote first) was very enjoyable but more familiar.

I'm trying to think of others where I've had a similar experience. Probably Jim Thompson's hardboiled fic. I read Hell Of A Woman as my first Thompson and it's my favorite and the one that really branded my brain with his style.

Tom Waits too, I think. Though he was impenetrable to me until I slowly slowly got sucked into Swordfishtrombones and then it was like stepping through the looking glass and seeing his whole world of imagery as being of a piece and almost physically being in his songs.

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