Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Night I Pitched a Perfect Game

I started playing softball - the ultimate old man's sport - when I was a young man.  In high school, actually, when several of us played in a church league for Forest Hills Methodist Church, notwithstanding the fact that none of us (except for my friend, Jay Miller) actually went to church there.

When I got to college, I started pitching.  I played on multiple softball teams in intramural softball the I lived in the dormitory my first couple of years in Knoxville.  Later, when I moved into the fraternity house, I pitched for Kappa Sigma "B league" teams, as my path to pitching for the fraternity was blocked by "Preppy Drew" Daniels, my softball pitching mentor and older fraternity brother.

Spring semester of my junior year in college, an independent softball team I had assembled - the Lumber Company (great name, I've always thought) - played my fraternity for the intramural softball championship.  I was conflicted, as an officer in my fraternity, to be playing against my fraternity brothers and I caught shit from many of them all week long leading up to the championship.  We lost a close but memorable game (I can still remember several key plays in the game) and afterwards, one of my fraternity brothers and close friends to this day - Chuck Brown - put his arm around me and told me he was proud of me and that he knew how tough it must have been for me to pitch against my fraternity softball team.  His words meant a lot to me and I'll never forget that moment.

For two summers on campus, I pitched for the Businessmen, a combination of Kappa Sigma-Phi Delta Theta-Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members.  We dominated the summer intramural softball league competition and won consecutive championships.  More importantly, I made friends with some guys in other fraternities I never otherwise would have known well.

My first year of law school (1990-91), the undergraduates in my fraternity asked me to pitch for Kappa Sigma in the intramural softball league.  After we confirmed that fraternity members in graduate school were indeed eligible to pitch for their fraternity, I quickly signed on.  On more that one occasion during hotly contested games against rival fraternities that season, I was the target of spirited heckling from the opposing sideline (a lot of "old man" references, probably due to the glasses I wore at the time in the pre-contacts phase of my life).  To my delight, we won the intramural championship and I played a key role in delivering the trophy to my fraternity.  I made friends with several younger teammates and enjoyed celebrating with them.

I've often joked, half seriously, that I was offered a summer clerkship at Manier, Herod, Hollabaugh & Smith in Nashville after my second year of law school in large part because I was a softball pitcher.      One of the firm members who interviewed me in Knoxville was leaving the firm and he was the longtime pitcher on the softball team.  I played for Manier Herod's softball team that summer while I was clerking.  We made a solid run in the Nashville Bar Association end of season softball tournament and I was on my way.  Funny how life works sometimes.

After law school, I played softball for a team run by a friend of mine from high school in spring and fall leagues in Williamson County for a few years.  Later, I was asked by an attorney friend of mine to pitch for Jonathan's, (a sports bar/restaurant) an established team in the Metro Nashville City Softball League.  Jonathan's later became Sam's (same sports bar/restaurant, different name).  We played in a doubleheader league on Thursday nights at West Park.  That was arguable the apex of my softball career, as most of my teammates had played college baseball.  It was a highly competitive softball team in a highly competitive league.  The highlight, every year, was the City Tournament, played at Shelby Park or Cane Ridge Park.

I have many, many memories of my City Softball League days, pre-marriage and pre-children.  It was tough, competitive, hard-nosed softball games followed be beers with my teammates at Jonathan's/Sam's in Hillsboro Village.  During the 2-week long run of the City Tournament every year, we would play a game, then sit in the parking lot at Shelby Park or Cain Ridge, drink beers while discussing our tournament draw and scouting reports on other teams.  Damn, it was fun.  Finally, after making a run to the finals one year and finishing in second place, we retired and disbanded the team.  We were older, married and most of us had young children.  Getting out on Thursday nights wasn't as easy as it had been in the past.

As a sad footnote, Shelby Park and West Park are gone now, as is the Metro Nashville City Softball League.  Shelby Park's four softball fields have been converted to green space.  Nice, but there's something missing.  When I start a run at Shelby Park, I almost can hear the echoes of the sounds from the thousands of softball games played there over the years.  

And then there's the law league, where I've played every spring/summer for 25 consecutive years.  So many memories from softball games played over the last quarter century at East Park.  I have sweated and bled on the field with my teammate and close friends.  I have a scar from stitches in the inside of my mouth from an injury I received trying to break up a double play.  A few years ago, I broke a bone in my left hand covering home and trying to tag a runner out.  My knees are scarred from years of sliding and diving for pop flies (although, in truth, I haven't slid in a game in a long, long time).

I've been a part of gut wrenching losses to the Independents (our fierce rival in the early to mid-90's), Stewart, Estes & Donnell (a 3-2 loss in the mid-90's in the final game of the tournament) and Boult, Cummins/Bradly Arant (our rival over the past decade with whom we have traded tournament championships.  Our loss (18-16) in the tournament finals last year to Hardin Law, after making an epic run out of the loser's bracket and winning four games on Sunday in 100 + degree heat was just that - epic.  I've never been as proud of my law league team in a loss.  Never.

I've been a part of victories and tournament championships, all of which meant more to my teammates and me than they probably should have.  The title we won in 1998 meant the world to me, because I had just recovered from three broken fingers on my left hand and hadn't known if I would be able to pitch or play softball again.  The title we won after a year in which one of my teammates and closest friends lost his daughter and an other lost  baby was special.  That last title we won, year before last, meant a lot because we had begun to doubt if we could get another one and it was the last game I'll likely ever play with Benton, my longest running teammate.  He retired after that game.

I've won tournament most valuable player awards and I've been named to the all-tournament team many times.  I've been the goat, too, and blown plays I should have made or popped out to end games.  I've shown my ass on the softball field at East Park - not recently, thankfully - by losing my temper or arguing with members of other teams.  Once, I chased a player into his dugout to finish an argument after he ran his mouth when I tagged him out at home.  That was funny, actually, and he and I laughed about it afterward.

It's silly and insignificant, in the scheme of things, of course, but I have loved to pitch and play softball.  What I've loved most, in recent years, is for my boys to come out and watch me and my team in the law league.  That's been a treat and their presence and seeing how much they enjoy watching me play has been the biggest reason why I keep playing.

Which brings me to the other night and our game against, Butler, Snow.  The night I pitched a perfect game.

As the game was about to start, we only had eight players.  I looked at J.P. and said, "get your glove, you're catching me."  He looked up at me from his usual spot not the bench and said, "seriously?"

It's kind of a thing for me, but I haven't taken any warmup pitches in at least 15 years.  It's a point of pride for some reason.  I made an exception that night, though, as J.P. squatted behind the plate with more than a little trepidation.  He warmed me up or, in reality, I warmed him up, arching pitches higher and higher to him as our longtime umpire and my friend, Gary, looked on with approval.  After every pitch, J.P. stood up and rifled the softball back to me.  As it popped into my glove each time, I nodded satisfyingly, trying to mask the fact that at that very moment, my heart was bursting with pride.

The significance of the moment was not lost on me as the first batter stepped up to the plate.  After all of the softball games on other fields but especially at East Park over the past 25 + years and after all the games there J.P. has watched me play over the past 9 years, here he was, catching me in a game as all of my friends watched.

For me, it doesn't get much better than that, not by a long shot.

J.P. played great.  He was a little nervous about hitting but he handled his business against my buddy Billy O, one of the few players int league older than me. Billy O has been pitching longer than I have, believe it or not, and is hyper competitive.  He's got grown kids, though, and it meant the world to me that the three times when J.P. batted, Billy O tried hard to give him something to hit.  J.P. overcame his nerves, stepped into the batter's box, and batted in front of a field full of grownups.  That took cojones, as I told him later.  

In the end, we got smoked, losing 16-4.  And I couldn't have cared less, because it was the night I pitched a perfect game.


J.P., after making his Nashville Bar Association softball league debut for Riley, Warnock & Jacobsen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Just Joe

Sometimes, like this morning, I'm struck by how different our lives would be if God hadn't seen fit to send us a second son.

This thought occurred to me, as it does from time to time, as I listened to J.P and Joe talking and laughing upstairs while they were getting dressed.  I couldn't hear what they were talking about but, of course, it didn't matter a bit.  What mattered was that they were happy, giggling as they prepared to start their day.

I peaked around the corner as they came downstairs and was greeted by Joe with a huge grin on his face, as he said, "look, Daddy!" and pointed at his socks.  He had deliberately put different colored socks on and was very, very proud of himself.  He walked into the kitchen, showed Jude, and cackled as she feigned confusion as to why the was wearing different colored socks.  It was funny and it made me smile.

Joe has a way about him, for sure.  He shares J.P.'s intensity when it comes to sports or games and he has the little brother's chip on his shoulder at times.  He's more physical than J.P. and his default move when he's mad at me (or J.P.) is to take a swing at me.  His fuse is shorter than J.P.'s, partly because he's the youngest, I think.  He gets angrier, easier than J.P. ever did at the age of 5.

However, Joe also laughs easier than J.P., too.  From a young age, I always said J.P. was a bit of an old soul, a rule follower and more inclined to sit back and take things in when he enters a room.  Joe, on the other hand, likes to be the center of attention.  He has a wicked sense of humor and loves to laugh.  He's got a great smile.  And I love it when he laughs.  The other kids at school seem to naturally gravitate to him when he arrives, which is cool to observe, as his father.

Anyway, our house would be so much quieter and our lives less rich without Joe.  That's an obvious point, I know, but it's one that sometimes becomes clear as day to me as we hustle from one event to another.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

A League of Her Own

Last Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the release of Penny Marshall's classic sports movie, "A League of Their Own."  Hard to fathom, right?

I love that movie, in part because of its "watchability" - meaning it's possible for me to drop in on it at any point during a cable television rerun, watch a few scenes, then go back to whatever it was that I was doing earlier.  In fairness, I stole that terms and definition from my guy, Bill Simmons, but it is applicable in this case and so many others.

One of my favorite sportswriters, Grantland alumnus Katie Baker, wrote a great piece about the movie for the Ringer last week.  As I was reading it, Jude and I were quoting memorable lines from the movie - "There's no crying in baseball!" - any many others.  We decided it would be a good movie for the boys to watch.

So, over dinner on the 4th of July and last night, as well, we watch A League of Their Own with the boys.  Predictably, they loved it, especially the scenes of the women playing baseball.  As always, it's different for me to watch a movie with J.P. and Joe, because I tend to see it through their eyes.  It was interesting to watch the movie with them, because I thought about it in ways I haven't before.  The movie is more nuanced, I think, than I realized.

J.P. and Joe didn't really follow the significance of the big sister-little sister relationship between Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty).  Joe, in particular, picked sides and really, really wanted the Rockford Peaches to win the world series.  As the climactic scene unfolded and Dottie dropped the ball when her sister, Kit, ran her over at home plate to score the winning run and clinch the series for the Racine Belles, Joe burst into tears.  It was priceless.  As he climbed into Jude's arms, sobbing, he said, "I don't like this movie."

I found myself getting emotional as I watched the movie - not just at the predictable moments, like the reunion of the players at the baseball hall of fame - but throughout the movie.  As I thought about it, I realized I saw my mom and her teammates from her days playing basketball for Jim Stockdale and the original Lady Vols' basketball team in Memphis at the University of Tennessee School of Nursing in the late 1950's.

Over the years, I've met so many of her teammates on weekends when my mom hosted them for the Vanderbilt-Lady Vols basketball game at Memorial Gym in Nashville.  For more than a decade in the late 1990's into the 2000's, it was an annual event.  Coach Stockdale and my mom were the driving force behind getting the ladies back together for a weekend that included eating dinner at my mom's house and attending the game.  I remember many conversations with my mom, as she and Coach Stockdale worked to get a block of tickets for the game, made more difficult year after year by the Vanderbilt athletic department's refusal to provide any help.

I attended many of the games with my mom and her teammates, by myself a first, then later with Jude and J.P.  Over the last several years, as it became more and more difficult to purchase tickets and the ladies got older, the annual event quietly disappeared.  That makes me sad, because I loved to hear Coach Stockdale and the ladies talk about their years of playing 6-on-6 women's basketball as the original Lady Vols.  He always laughed and said my mom - who plays only defense - had the sharpest elbows on the team.  She was quite a defensive player and a good rebounder.

As I may have mentioned, one of my mom's teammates, Colleen Burke, called me out of the blue last Friday.  She had spoken to Coach Stockdale and learned my mom wasn't doing well.  She was in town and wanted to stop by and see her.  Her kindness in a simple telephone call to me while I was eating lunch at work brought me to tears then, just as it is as I write this now.

Those ladies - the original Lady Vols - would have made Pat Summitt proud.  They were in a league of their own.  And, for sure, my mom in in a league of her own.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Old Friends

I'm sitting in The Post, an East Nashville coffee shop around the corner from Jude's first house at 1802 Russell Street.  Like everyone else inside the perimeter in Nashville, this neighborhood has changed tremendously the last 15 years.  This a cool place.  I smile as I remember it used to be some type of a plant store that, for reasons we could never ascertain, wasn't open to the public.  We used to joke about it being a front for some type of a marijuana selling operation.

My smile fades a bit as I realize how long ago that was and how much has changed in our lives since then.  We are older, for sure.  I'm not sure if we're any wiser or, maybe, a little more cynical about life.  I think I probably am, anyway, and that's a little sad.

I just finished 5 miles on the trails at Shelby Bottoms.  I haven't run there in a while, so it was nice to get over there early this morning.  There's something magical about that place for me.  Running on the Cornelia Fort trail under a canopy of trees with me feet falling in the same place they've fallen so many times before.  There is something comforting in that for me, something that seems to reset the compass of my life.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my mom.  We had a nice visit for the most part.  She was confused about when she was supposed to go downstairs to eat, which is her normal state.  More concerning, though, was that earlier in the day when Tracy stopped by, she discovered that my mom had somehow locked herself in the bedroom and was on the floor.  Evidently, she hadn't fallen but, instead, had slid down to he knees and hadn't been able to get up.  This has been happening a lot lately.  Fortunately, the staff at Maristone was able to unlock her bedroom door and Tracy and a staff person helped her up.

While I was visiting, I called my one of my mom's oldest friends, Judee Potter, who lives in Southern California.  Judee reads this blog and has done so from the beginning, I think.  We talk from time to time and I had been trying to find a time for her to talk with my mom.  Back in the day - and I mean way, way back in day in the late 1960s, I think - Judee and my mom were relative newlyweds, spending time together with infant children, trying to figure out life and where they fit in it.

As young mothers with husbands that worked all hours, a big Friday night out for them was to go to K-Mart, put their infant children in shopping carts (Marci and me), and stroll around the store while they ate popcorn.  Or, at least, that's the story I was always told by my mom.  Judee may have to confirm its accuracy.

As I listened to my mom talk with Judee, I fought back tears during their relatively brief conversation.  I was so happy to hear my mom laugh as she talked to Judee.  I was sad, though, as my mom struggled to follow the conversation, asking Judee more than once how long she had lived in California.

Friday, at work, I received a telephone call from Colleen Burke, one of my mom's basketball teammates when she played for the Lady Vols in the late 1950s.  That's another story, but it was before the Lady Vols became the Lady Vols, if you know what I mean.  For several years, Jim Stockdale (my mom's coach) and my mom organized annual outings to the Lady Vols-Lady Dores basketball game in Nashville.  My mom always hosted a get together at her house the weekend of the game and many of Coach Stockdale's former players (and my mom's teammates) attended.

Colleen and her husband were in town and she wanted to stop by Maristone and see my mom.  It means so much to me (and to Tracy and Alice) when people reach out to us and want to see or talk to my mom.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how what my mom is going through affects her, obviously, and how it affects me.  I probably haven't spent enough time thinking about how it affects my mom's friends, people like Judee Potter, Jan Baker and Patti Sparks.  It must be incredibly difficult for them to slowly lose someone - a peer - with whom they have so many shared memories.  I'm sure they feel the same sense of helplessness I feel.  I'm sure they feel a sense of loss, too, for what was and what might have been.

Old friends are the best friends.



  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Windy City

Jude and I took the boys to Chicago over the weekend for an informal reunion with some of her friends from Tulane.

We stayed downtown a block or two off Michigan Avenue.  The boys had a blast and I fell in love with Chicago.  Again.  It's such a user friendly city and so easy to get to from Nashville.  Highlights, in no particular order:


  • My Saturday morning 4 mile run along Lake Michigan, followed by an awesome 5 mile run along the Chicago River Sunday morning.  The Sunday morning run was a top 10 run for the year. 
  • The weather.  Oh, man, the weather was beautiful, particularly after the hot and humid beginning to the summer in Nashville.  
  • Breakfast and coffee, Saturday and Monday, with the family at Le Pain Quotidian on Michigan Avenue.  Fantastic, creative, organic food and excellent coffee.  Great service, too.
  • Watching J.P. and Joe interact with Terry and Meig's boys - Terry, Tommy and Holden - and Jim and Colleen's boys - Nate and Andrew.  
  • The Chicago Sports Hall of Fame at Harry Carey's restaurant.  A big, big hit with J.P.
  • Miniature Golf with Jude and the boys at Millennium Park.  
  • J.P. rock climbing at Millennium Park.  Actually, that wasn't cool.  It scared the shit out of me to see him climbing the wall, 30 feet above the ground, even if he was attached to a harness and carefully monitored by an employee from below.  I've never felt so helpless as a father.  
  • Musical beds in our hotel room, as I slept in a double bed with Jude, J.P. and Joe on different nights.  
  • Taking the architecture boat tour on the Chicago River through downtown with Jude's friend, Terry Sullivan, leading the tour.  
  • My brief stop off at the Hemingway House and the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park, IL, followed by a couple of beers at the Oak Park Brewing Co.  Quiet, contemplative time for me.
  • Cooking out at Terry and Meig's house in Oak Park, IL, and watching the boys play football, hockey, basketball and baseball in the driveway and back yard.  
  • Finishing "The Sportswriter" by Richard Ford as I sipped a beer at the Chicago Athletic Club bar and waited on Jude and the boys to return from the Aquarium.  Actually, not going to the Aquarium might have been the highlight of the trip for me.
It was a good weekend away.  Chicago is definitely somewhere we will return to in the future, hopefully for a longer stay.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Emotionalism

It's Father's Day and I'm sitting a Craft Brewed and sipping a Bearded Iris "Homestyle IPA" before I to pick up a pizza from Mafiozza's for dinner.

I spent an alternately relaxing and stressful afternoon at my mom's place.  So many times, I find myself unwinding with a beer after I see her.  Not several beers mind you, just one beer and some solitude.  I think taking a few minutes for myself helps me process my emotions and get them under control before I get home and interact with the boys and Jude.  I need that, at least right now, I do.

When I arrived about 2:30 p.m., my mom and I almost bumped into each other as I exited the elevator on the second floor at Maristone.  She was up and using her walker with the intention of going downstairs to eat lunch.  The problem, of course, is that she ate lunch at noon like she always does but couldn't remember it.  I suggested she let me make her a peanut butter and banana sandwich in her apartment and she readily agreed.

We talked for a bit while she was eating her second lunch of the day.  I changed the channel to the U.S. Open golf championship.  I don't play golf at all but my law partners and I always bet with each other on the outcome, so it was fun to talk to her about who she needed to root for in order for me to win money from Mark and Chas.  By now, I'm used to her asking me repeatedly - and I mean repeatedly - where they're playing, who a particular golfer is, etc.  I'm used to it but it still makes me so sad because, somehow, that's the saddest thing of all - that such a huge sports fan can no longer follow a sporting event on television.

So many times over the years, we talked on the telephone on weekends and discussed in detail the sporting event of the moment.  Wimbledon, the PGA Championship, the NBA playoffs, the Predators,  the Titans, the British Open, the Olympics . . . the list goes on and on and on.  If it involved sports and was on television, she would watch it.  The more drama involved, the better.  And we talked about it.  Sports was the currency that we traded in for so many years.  It was out native tongue, our common language.

I fell asleep for on the couch while we watched golf and when I woke up, she wasn't sitting in her chair.  I could hear her in the bathroom, so I wasn't worried, particularly since she had remembered to use her walker.  My heart sank when she walked out of her bedroom and was surprised to see me.  She didn't believe that I had been there or that I had been napping on the couch.  She also didn't believe that I had made her a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  In short, she was confused and agitate, which is hard for me to deal with.

She argued with me about whether it was time to go down for dinner.  Finally, I convinced her it was, and I got her in her wheelchair and wheeled her down to the dining hall.  15 minutes later, she had wheeled herself back upstairs because she didn't like what was for dinner and the servers were mean to her, which is complete bullshit.  William in the dining hall is my guy and he looks out for her.

I gave her a sandwich Tracy had made and left in her refrigerator and she settled down, as we continued to watch the U.S. Open.  I left after she finished eating.

It's just so hard and exhausting and I feel emotionally spent.  I know that we're not unique and that many -  hell, most - people go through this with their parents at some point.  Knowing that doesn't make it any easier for me to got through it now.  Most importantly, I hate it for her.  That's what kills me.  This strong, independent, outspoken, intelligent women has been reduced by this terrible disease to what she is now.  It's unfair to her and she deserved so much better.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Guy Town

After enduring one of the bottom 10 days of my professional career yesterday, I'm taking a break this morning.  After a cup of coffee at Bongo Java, I'm going to walk across the street and watch my goddaughter, Kaitlyn, play basketball as part of Belmont U's high school girls' basketball camp.  She'll be a senior and I don't get to see her play nearly as much as I would like, so I moved some appointments around on my schedule to make it happen.

Jude has been in D.C. for work since Tuesday but is coming home tonight.  As always, it's been a rare treat to have the boys to myself for a couple of days.  We don't get much "hang out time," where it's just the three of us, figuring things out.  When we do, I try to make the most of it.  I think it's good for the boys and I know it's good for me.

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As an aside, it's tough, sometimes, to leave work at the office.  J.P. and Joe help me with that, though. Like yesterday, when I arrive home after a particular shitty day, it almost always lifts my spirits to have them there waiting on me.  It's their gift to me, I think, and one they don't realize they're giving me.  It's made more special by the fact that it's fleeting, as soon enough they will be teenagers, on the go, and completely disinterested in what kind of day their old man had or when he is getting home.

Today, when I sat down at a table in Bongo Java that I don't normally sit at, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia.  Like stepping into a time machine, I vividly recalled a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when I sat here, probably posting on this blog, while J.P. slept beside me in the Baby Jogger.  I felt a tinge - well, more than a tinge, actually - of sadness for what I have lost since that day, that time.  J.P.'s early youth, my 40's and, most importantly, my relationship with my mom.  In those days, I would have talked to her on the phone, laughing, joking and likely discussing the latest big story in the world of sports.

She had a tough day yesterday, but I just don't want to talk about it right now.  We're getting to the point where there are fewer and fewer answers and and more and more questions.

Sometimes I want to ride the wave of nostalgia - like a dream at night I don't want to wake up from - as a means of disengaging from the stark reality of day-to-day life, especially as it relates to my mom.    It's kind of like trying to hold on to the feeling of dreaminess that Frank Bascombe experiences in Richard Ford's "The Sportswriter" (one of my favorite novels and on I'm re-reading this summer) after the death of his son.

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Tuesday night, Carly, Jon and I took the boys to PM for dinner.  J.P. ate sushi with me and, believe it or not, Joe tried sushi for the first time (crunchy shrimp roll).  Afterwards, we threw the frisbee at Belmont U. as darkness fell, then walked home.  It was a splendid evening spent with two people who are as close to being part of our family as you could possibly be without actually being blood relatives.  

Last night, the boys and I walked to the 12south Tap Room, got takeout, and walked back home for dinner.  We watched part of the Lakers-Celtics "30 for 30."  They enjoyed it, although J.P. found some of the video clips of the violence during the civil rights movement disturbing.  Then, off to bed and up this morning for "film study" on Youtube.  In order, the boys selected highlights of Dominik Hasek, Alex Ovechkin, a couple of Dude Perfect videos and J.J. Watt.

Guy town indeed.