Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Dirty Dodgers

The Dodgers' spring baseball season ended tonight with a heartbreaking 18-17 loss to the Giants.  I'm proud of my guys and really, really proud of J.P.

The Giants took a 6-0 lead in the first inning, only to have our boys chip away until it was 6-4.  Wes struggled pitching in the first inning, so I brought in Cyrus, the youngest player on either team.  He was dealing tonight and shut the Giants down for two innings.  In the meantime, our boys had a huge inning and took a 15-6 lead.  

Because he was pitching so well, I decided to let Cyrus pitch a third inning.  That may have been a mistake, as he struggled with his control and the Giants starting hitting him.  After they scored 3 or 4 runs and had the bases loaded, I brought in J.P. to pitch.  I didn't really want to, but the other boys who pitched regularly had pitched recently and, in my mind, J.P. was the freshest.  

J.P. pitched well and threw strikes for the most part, although his velocity seemed to be a little down. Connor kicked a ball at second base that he should have fielded cleanly.  Then, on a ball hit slowly to the third base side of the pitcher, J.P. made a difficult throw to first base.  Aidan, playing first, could have made the catch even though the throw from J.P. was a little bit wide.  He didn't catch it, the ball tipped off his glove and ended up in shallow right field.  Two runs scored.  When the inning was over, we were down 18-15.

I checked with my dugout coach, Will, who confirmed we had or 9-10-11 hitters coming to bat in the bottom of the last inning.  We don't have a chance, I thought, although I told the boys differently.  With two outs, the boys rallied and before I knew it, J.P. was at the plate with two runners on base.  He took two pitches for balls.  Next, the pitcher threw two low and outside pitches that the umpire called strikes.  After the second one, I yelled - loudly - at the umpire, looking away so as not to get myself in trouble.  Damn, I thought, J.P. is going to look at a called third strike and be devastated. 

The pitcher, who was throwing hard, looked in at the catcher, rocked back and let the ball fly.  Low and fast, again, but this time swung the bat and hit a line drive single up the middle, right past the pitcher's head.  Man, I was (and am) proud of that kid.  Two outs, two strikes, two on, bottom of the last inning and our season on the line, so what does he do?  He rakes, that's what he does.  J.P. was "in the arena," and he wasn't scared.  What a moment.

Ultimately, Aidan struck out looking with the bases loaded and the tying run on third base, and the Dodgers lost 18-17.  That's baseball. 

Another baseball season in the books.  It passed by too quickly, as always.  Damn, I love those boys and their fathers that coach with me. 

This was a big spring for J.P. on the baseball field.  The last half of the season, especially in the tournament, I moved him up to second in the batting order and he started hitting the ball with authority.  He hit a double into the gap between left and center field two nights ago.  Tonight, he had a pair of hits into the outfield (including the line drive up the middle in the last inning).  Also, J.P. really began to develop as a shortstop.  Tonight, as was the case Tuesday night, he threw a fast runner out at first base from deep in the hole.  He had an infielder's hands and a good arm.  I think he can become a good baseball player if it's something he wants to do.

I wouldn't trade coaching these boys in baseball for anything.  I had that feeling again Tuesday night - a beautiful night after a shitty, difficult stretch at work - that on field #2 at Warner Park, under the lights, was where I needed to be.  Hell, it was where I wanted to be . . . forever.  As I've said before, if I'm lucky enough to make it to heaven, I hope my job for eternity it to coach 9-10 year olds playing baseball on a beautiful spring evening as the sun sets.

I'm a lucky man. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Sunday to Remember

Yesterday was a big day for J.P.

For the past eight months or so, J.P. has been attending First Communion Sunday School classes at Cathedral - where Jude and I were married - before our regular 11 a.m. church service at St. Patrick.  Like so much that he does, J.P. has taken his preparation for First Communion seriously.  He is and always has been an old soul that way.

Last Sunday, he was asked to do the second reading at the First Communion church service at Cathedral.  He was proud to have been asked and solemnly practiced his reading all week long.  As is also his way, J.P. bristled a little when Jude and I made suggestions to him while he was practicing (speak slowly, don't chew up your words, etc.), mostly because he expects so much of himself.  Sometimes, with constructive criticism, he tends to focus more on the "criticism" and not so much on the "constructive."

Jude's brother, James, was in town with his 2 + year old daughter, Caroline, for the festivities.  Jim and Jane White were there, of course.  Tom and Sandy White were at Cathedral, as were Jude's aunts, Margaret and Ann.  Tracy, Gary and the kids (Kaitlyn and Matthew) brought my mom, which made the day all the more special.  Alice and Jerry came, too.  Our families were well represented.

When J.P. walked down the aisle, hands clasped as if for prayer, I smiled to myself.  He looked great in the red tie I helped him tie that morning, the first real tie he has ever worn.  After Father Steiner addressed the children, who were sitting up front, and the congregation, one of J.P.'s Sunday School classmates did the first reading.  Next came the Psalm.  Suddenly, it was time for the second reading.

J.P. got up, walked to the center of the church, in front of the altar, and bowed low.  Then, he walked up the stairs, behind the lectern, and adjusted the microphone.  And away he went.

My son, my eldest son, who seemingly only days before was being baptized as an infant by Father Eric at St. Patrick, was reading from the bible to a crowd of well over 500 people.

And he nailed it.

J.P. spoke loudly, slowly and clearly.  Truth be told, he was easier to understand than many adults I have heard do readings at church.  When he finished, a lady in front of us mouthed to her companion "he's really good."  I beamed with pride.

When he finished and walked back to his seat, Jude and I looked at each other and shared a moment - a moment made up of so many other moments.  Something passed between us, unsaid and not needing to be said.  We exchanged a fist bump and I said a silent prayer of thanks.

A few minutes later, I watch J.P. take communion for the first time - the first of many, many times in his lifetime.

I've thought this before, but it wouldn't surprise me if J.P. became a priest one day.  What's important to me, though, is that he remembers the day of his First Communion and how proud Jude and I were of him.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Novocaine

Tough day at work today, followed by a tough late afternoon at my mom's place.

After spending the day in depositions with a very difficult attorney, I met with the executive director at Maristone to express some concerns Tracy, Alice and I have about the care my mom is receiving.  It's as if it's not enough for us to watch my mom fade away a little bit more every day; on top of that, now we have to worry if she is receiving the care to which she is entitled and which we have been promised.

I got home late, after dinner, and just felt so down.  As I was taking my suit off in my walk-in closet, I heard Joe running down the stairs asking J.P., "is dad home?"  Fresh from a shower, Joe ran into the bedroom, found me in the closet and gave me a hug.  "I love you, daddy," he said.  Mentally and emotionally spent, I looked down at him - his arms around my waist - and said "I love you too, buddy."  Just for a minute, I felt blessed by God again.

We watched the end of "Cars 2," then put the boys to bed.  Then, I talked to Jude for a minute and went for a run.

Running is all I have right now, or so it seems.  I feel numb all of the time.  Running makes me hurt.  Running makes me exert myself, to sweat.  Running makes me feel real.  It's hard to explain, but the only time I feel I have some semblance of my life, right now, is when I am running.  I can run faster or slower and I an stop whenever I want to, wherever I want to.  Tonight, I stopped at The Filling Station and had a beer.

As I was finishing my beer, I saw Eric, a 22-year old Belmont U. graduate I first go to know when he worked at Bongo Java.  He saw me as he was walking by, stopped, and I bought him a beer.  We talked about movies, books and life, which is what we usually do when I run into him in the neighborhood at random times and places.  Eric is a good kids, just starting out in life.  It's interesting to me to get his perspective on things.

At amy rate, he made me smile tonight and forget for a few minutes the helplessness I feel as I watch my mom struggle to maintain some semblance of normal life in what time she has left.  For that, I was grateful.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Joy of Being Joe

In the maelstrom of emotions I seem to battle on a daily basis as I try to process what my mom is going through, my boys are my life preserver.  No matter how down I get - and I've very, very down at times - J.P. and Joe are there to do or say something that makes me smile.

Jude and I, as always, have a nightly routine we use to get the boys in bed.  It's evolved over time but we stay pretty consistent with it from night to night.  It normally ends with me fluffing J.P.'s pillows, tucking him and telling him good night while Jude settled Joe into bed.  Then, we switch rooms and I tell Joe good night.

A couple of nights ago, as I walked into Joe's room with the lights out to tell him good night, I asked him, "Air hug?" That's a joke between the two of us because we designed an elaborate ritual of multiple "air hug, air high fives, air knuckles and air wet willies" to use when he was sick a couple of months ago.  He thinks it's funny, so we kept doing it when I tell him good night.

Anyway, after I asked "Air hug?" he held out his arms to me from across the room and said, "bring it in close for the real thing, Daddy!"  I laughed out loud much to his delight, then laughed harder.  He was quoting me and it was so funny, and his timing was perfect, and his delivery was perfect, and in that moment, I just felt happy.

Thank you, J.P. and Joe, for being my port in this storm.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Darkness More Than Night

I visited my mom this morning on my way to work and found her sleeping in the lift chair we recently bought her.  When I walked in, she was slumped over to her right side and didn't even hear me open her door.  As has been the case the past few days, she was lethargic and expressed little interest in doing anything more than continuing to sleep.  I had to wake her up to talk to me and she kept nodding off to sleep.  I told her goodbye after a few minutes and left for work.

I can't shake the feeling that my mom is like an old clock winding itself down.  And it's breaking my heart.

I spent the rest of the day at work in a fog.  I couldn't focus on anything for very long.  I called Jude after I left the office, because I wanted to talk to someone.  She answered but I could tell she was busy, so I told he I would see her at home.  I cried a little as I drove, trying to think of someone I could call who would understand how I feel.  I realized, though, that no one can understand how I feel because no one knew my mom like I knew her and no one had the relationship with her that I did.

I'm just so very, very sad, almost all of the time.  I feel such a sense of apathy and nothing really seems to matter in comparison to what my mom is going through.  The sense of sadness I feel is suffocating.  It's like quicksand or darkness.  I just can't escape it.  Maybe this is what being depressed feels like.  I don't know.  

I feel so helpless because after all my mom has done for me, there is nothing I can do for her when she needs me most of all.  She's slipping away before my eyes - a little more so each day - soon to be gone forever and I am powerless to stop it.  The thought of her spending what in all likelihood are her last, conscious days alone in her apartment at Maristone, sleeping in her chair, devastates me.

It's all happened do quickly.  Her physical and mental condition has deteriorated so rapidly that it's hard to remember the last time we had a normal conversation.  

I regret so deeply that I didn't spend more time with my mom the last few years.  Sure, we talked on the telephone every day, often times more than once.  We were so close.  But I didn't go to her house - the house I grew up in - enough and just spend time with her.  I didn't take the boys over to her house as much as I should have.  I didn't spend enough time just hanging out with her.  I would give up everything I own to have her back, healthy, for one more week, like old times.

I feel as if I took our relationship for granted.  Often times when I ran, I thought about how unmoored and adrift I would feel if she ever died.  Those were conceptual thoughts, though, not ones I planned on facing anytime in the immediate future.  I was right, though, because I do feel unmoored and adrift.  I also feel alone, so terribly and depressingly alone.

What I wouldn't give to have her call me one more time on my way home from work to talk about the latest sports news or to ask me why I haven't written something for the blog.

This is so hard.      

 

      

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dodgertown

Baseball for the boys began in earnest this week and that means one very important thing - Dodgertown is back!

Our special group has grown this year to J.P.'s "Minor" league team of 9-10 year olds with 13 players and Joe's "Wookie" league team of 4-6 year olds with 20 (!) players.  I had to split Joe's team, the Junior Dodgers, into 2 teams because we had so many boys interested in playing this spring.  The league agreed to schedule their Saturday games back-to-back, which is actually pretty cool because it gives families some scheduling flexibility in determining the game in which they want their son to play.  Joe, of course, played in both games yesterday because, well, he's Joe.

Tuesday night, after the final preseason practice for the Dodgers (J.P.'s team), we had a hastily planned but perfectly executed 9th birthday party for J.P.  It was pretty great to watch the boys and their siblings gulp down pizza, then play football, tag, etc. on the baseball field in the twilight while their parents sat in the bleachers talking and laughing.  We finished with cupcakes from Ivy Cakes in Franklin (down from my office), which were a huge hit.  It was a near perfect evening.

Wednesday, my friend, Chad and I met at the Filling Station and had a beer while we worked out the rosters for our two Junior Dodger teams.  It was a bit of a challenge given that several parents had requested their son play with a particular boy and we had a set of brothers and and a set of cousins.  It all fell into place, especially after Chad and I had our second beer.

Yesterday - opening day - was fantastic.  The Junior Dodgers' two games went smoothly.  In the first game, we played against a team coached by my old friend, Tom Courts, who was pinch hitting as head coach for two of his sons who were out of town.  I have a few holdovers from our team last spring, as a result of which I can place some fathers who know what they're doing in strategic positions to help keep things organized.  The two dads - Tony R. and Joe W. - who ran the dugouts in the games did marvelous jobs.  Experience has taught me the key to a smooth running baseball game is having a coach keep the boys in the dugout in line.  With the younger ones, we seat them and baby them in numerical order (0-12 or 12-0), which means we can get everyone to the plate to bat more efficiently.

Joe hit well, even scorching a line drive that rolled to the fence.  He made a couple of nice throws in the field, although at his age every batted ball ends up in a skirmish as the boys tackles each other and wrestle in an effort to come up with the ball.  By the second half of the season, we'll have them a little more under control in the field.

J.P.'s game game against the Giants (as a lifelong Dodger fan, I hate any and all baseball teams named the Giants and wearing the hideous orange band black uniforms) went down to the wire.  The boys struggled early against a tough left-handed pitcher who went a couple of innings.  J.P. struck out his first time at bat, thanks in part to the umpire's generous strike zone (to say the least) on the outside part of the plate.  I pitched Aidan, Benton, J.P., Porter and Wes, in that order.

J.P. struggled mightily on the mound, pitching into and out of trouble as he walked two batters.  However, he struck out his third batter of the inning with the bases loaded and didn't give up a run.  It was pretty cool to see him pump his fist when the boy who made the last out swung and missed.  J.P. trotted off the mound with a grin on his face.

In the top of the 5th, an extra inning as it were, the Giants nicked Wes for one run and led 6-5 heading into the bottom half of the inning.  I felt reasonably optimistic, though, as our 2-3-4 hitters were scheduled to bat.  Aidan, leading off, was hit by a pitch.  We pinch ran Benton for him, and scratched out a run to tie it in a couple of infield hits and an errant throw to first base.  With no outs, we had boys on second and third, with J.P. coming to bat.

I called timeout as strode to the plate and motioned him over toward me as I left the dugout.  I bent down and said quietly to him, "in this situation, hit the ball hard to the right side - don't worry about trying to pull the ball - and drive Wes in from third base."  He looked at me seriously, nodded his head, and turned away.

As his teammates cheered from the dugout, he took a called strike one, predictably way off and outside of home plate.  He stepped out of the batter's box for a minute, collected himself, then hit a hard ground ball to the right side of the infield, toward second base.  As Wes crossed the plate with the winning run and the umpire signaled the end of the game, the boys erupted from the dugout cheering and high-fiving each other.  As J.P. jogged back toward the dugout, Cooper engulfed him in a bear hug and the other boys followed suit.

I beamed and realized I had just witnessed one of best moments of my life so far.  I hugged J.P. and he smiled broadly and proudly as our parents cheered wildly from their perch on the hill beside the third base dugout.

Dodgertown is back.  And I couldn't be happier about it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Another Fall

It's a long, hard ride to the finish line.

Last night, for once, I went to bed early.  I was awakened from a rambling, sprawling dream - the details of which I don't remember - by the sound of my cell phone buzzing.  I answered and it was Alice, calling to tell me that my mom had fallen again.  Still half-asleep, I struggled to engage my mind in the conversation.

I had talked to my mom at 7:45 p.m., after JP's baseball practice and birthday party, and she was tired but sleepy.  I learned from Alice that Tracy had talked to her at 8:30 p.m. and she was fine.  When Alice called about 9 p.m. and got no answer, she called the staff at Maristone and asked them to check on her.  Sure enough, she had fallen out of her chair and was unable to get up.

Tracy was there and was going to spend the night.  Alice agreed to cover the morning shift with her.  I did a mental inventory of my work calendar and quickly realized I could be there from lunchtime on through the early evening, if necessary.  After that, who knows?

When I called and talked to Tracy, then my mom, just past midnight, my mom didn't even remember that she had fallen.  So there's that.

I don't know who this could get any harder.  I really don't.  For my mom and for us.

Tracy and I looked at lift chairs last weekend.  Tracy ordered one on Monday and it should arrive this week.  Maybe that will help.  Probably, it won't.

I don't know what our options are, at this point.  The staff at Maristone are checking on her every two hours, as it is.  Or they're supposed to be, anyway.  What can they do for someone who can't get out of her chair or walk without falling?  I have no idea but I guess we'll find out.

It breaks my heart to say this, but this is no way for my mom to live.