Monday, January 31, 2011

The Beginning 4th edition

Coffee is the best when it is hot....don't you think?

This morning I have a few appointments so this entry will be fairly short. I find some of these memories pretty humorous as I reflect upon a boy's 8th grade antics and experiences.

There were multiple stressors during the year starting with where Buddy would attend high school. There were a number of regional Roman Catholic diocesan and private schools to select. The goal had always been Catholic education so the options were limited to seven schools. Next, Buddy had to be academically rather than athletically competitive to be accepted into the uber private schools. It is one thing that be able to throw a fast ball, but most of the schools were interested in how fast he could solve an algorithm or two. This also limited the number of schools to a handful. His classmates in his all boy school were bright and could attend any school of their choice. Buddy is a smart kid on the field and off,  but he would rather perfect a "change up" than a math problem.

With that said, after a number of visits to most of the schools, he chose a small coed school in a state below our own border about 12 miles from the house. The next question was whether he would be accepted into the academically focused school. Therefore he had to take a placement test and send his transcripts. Waiting for word on admission was stressful because the letters were not sent until mid January if accepted right away. If the applicant is placed on the waiting list, the letters arrived in February. His class mates were receiving their letters of acceptance and Buddy waited (not so patiently) by the mail box.

During the off season, Buddy continued to train with Coach Phil and Coach D on Sundays. His dad took him to batting practice and he was excited about the impending season.

The pre season began and as predicted Buddy started first base. Unfortunately (in Buddy's mind), he was not the 1st or 2nd starter, he was more like number 3. Once again, the mutterings of "not fair....what the heck...etc" filled the car on the way to and from games and practice. It was always a pleasure when Buddy was annoyed (not!). On days when he had a bad game, his dad and I would draw straws on who would drive him home in his "salty" mood. The winner got to drive home alone ;-). I was on the losing end on a number of occasions. How often can a mother say, "your day will patient....everyone gets a chance...and watch your language!"

got to go....more later....

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Beginning again.....

The coffee has taken effect.....yeah....

Before I begin, I would like to congratulate my younger brother Dr G.  Last night he was inducted into our high school hall of fame....well done, kiddo.

Back to the my mind clears, I will share with you the excitement (yes, it was exciting) of the 7th and 8th grade seasons. As you know, unless a player is a major "stud", he does not get into a varsity game in front of an 8th grader. There is a pecking order. The kids who are relegated to the bench are given the following tasks....keep the bats upright along the fence....keep a pitch count for the pitcher...pick up the bat after the batter hits at home plate.....maintain the book (delegated to a kid who could pay attention to the game).....and the worst activity or job (in my book) was to chase down the foul balls when they were hit into the woods. My mother's squeamish mind wanders to tics, snakes, bugs, mosquitoes, and so on. Yet, the ball chasing was a favorite activity since it released the kids from the bench to move around....even if it was to dig a ball or two out of a mud pile. Heaven forbid if the runner came back without the was a Catholic school and they had a ball budget to maintain.

Some of my best memories of 7th grade were of the family sitting together in the outfield. My nephew M was an 8th grader on the team. He started in outfield and pitched as another left hander. My brother in law Big M attended every game. He would come to the field with a plastic bag of sunflower seeds and gatorade for Little M. Then he would set his chair up next to mine and we would sit and chat about baseball and life. I used to call him "Wheels" after the Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler. Wheels would know the  batter's count, pitch count, score and line up. He would sit, eat his sunflower seeds, spit the shells out of his mouth and call the next pitch. He would say...."watch this...gonna be a curve ball....." The curve ball would come, the batter would swing and miss and Wheels would grin.

It was a fun time for all of us except Buddy who sat on the bench and kept the bats in an upright position making sure that they were clustered in colors and height. They looked like a gray and black package of crayons. He definitely had a style about the way he kept the bats in alignment. Actually, the bats have a life of their own. With any artist or athlete, there is a favorite tool of the trade. For accountants, there are favorite calculators whereas a photographer has a preferred lens. Believe it or not, it is the same with a ball player. The baseball bat is something more than a can be a perceived weapon. Once the kids could figure it out, the bats became a status symbol. Like a Mercedes, Lexus or BMW, a bat can indicate power.

I know what you are thinking.....are you kidding me? The answer am not kidding. The baseball bat in Little League is the precursor to owning a Maserati. Buddy once called me at work. He and his dad (naturally) went bat shopping. He bought something called a DeMarini. His excitement over the phone was palpable. "Mom....I got is amazing...Mom...a's so sweet...smooth..super sweet spot....I am going to hit home runs with's kidding....." The first DeMarini call came in around 2 pm....there were 6 more after that one describing the bat and its power. My colleague who was sitting with me laughed each time the phone rang....That night and many others, Buddy slept with his bat at his side. I would tell people that it was because we did not have a burglar alarm and he wanted to be prepared to protect the family.

Back to 7th grade...the team was very good. This can be a mixed blessing for the younger kid. Unless the game is a blow out, the younger kids did not make it into the game. Buddy once made it in to pinch-bunt....which he did....In my mind, it was a perfect bunt....that's it....he did not get in for the rest of the season except for a cameo appearance once or twice. The kids won the districts and lost in the play offs. Buddy made me proud as he continued to keep the bats in order with only a few angry..."why didn't I get in again?...." rides home. He knew that 8th grade would be his year too....

More later.....

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Beginning Part 2


I just had my morning coffee and am ready for some more of the "beginning".....

Let's start with...."Buddy" was not always an 'ace' a matter of fact, he had to work his way up to the starting rotation of any team except for his local township team. Since Buddy is a left hander, he could only play one or two positions....first base, outfield (really bad at it.)  or pitch. It was Coach Tom who placed him on the mound when he was ten. When he wasn't pitching, he played first base. Was he good? In comparison to the kids on the township team, he was above average...not the best...not the worst. He had one thing that the other kids did not have....heart. He wanted it more than anyone else on the team. So he worked and worked and worked.....

When Buddy was 12, he started pitching and batting lessons with a local legend, Coach Phil. Coach Phil was the coach of the baseball team at the high school and then college levels. He had been drafted by the Yankees as a pitcher but never played major league. He had an abundance of knowledge and was great with kids. Buddy went to see coach Phil every Sunday morning after mass. He worked with Coach D and Coach Phil for an hour. They tinkered with his mechanics and swing. They also played with his head. They loved to joke with him although Buddy did not always get the joke. Usually Buddy's dad would take him to Coach Phil and they would banter back and forth. Coach Phil knew a lot about baseball but could not remember names. To this day, he calls me "mom" since he has no idea what my name is.

With coaching and dedication, Buddy progressively improved over the years. He first made township all star  and travel teams but he was quite fearful that he would not make his elementary school team. Here is a kid who is fearless on the mound, yet cringed when he thought that he might be cut from St. A's in the tender year of 5th grade.

To his delight, he made the team and was promptly placed on the bench. The kids in 6th grade started games and he filled in at various points. He did not pitch much but did have the opportunity to play first base on occasion. This year he played in school and township and he began to focus on throwing. He discovered that he loved to pitch.

The next questions you may have was his pitching? Was he an ace? The answers are complicated. His pitching was fine for a 5th grader. He was again not the best and not the worst. He was above average although not by much. Was he an ace? Absolutely not. He was "lit" up on a number of occasions and had multiple melt downs. Some melt downs are more famous than others. I am going to use one blog entry to share the infamous mound meltdowns some time soon. So stayed tune....

As 5th grade ended and 6th grade began, he was ready to be the 'big man' on the team. His goal was to be a starting pitcher and play first base. This is sort of what happened. Yes, he started first base. No, he was not the starting pitcher. He was in the rotation, but not the number one. He was more of the 2 or 3rd starter. Actually, to his dismay, the catcher started as pitcher on a number of occasions. The ride home from these games were often "salty" as he would mutter and express his frustration that he was not the starter on a more regular basis. He often had trouble expressing his thoughts in a non emotional way which worked to his detriment. But he was 11 years old...a kid....he had more growing to do....

As I reflect back on these formative years, I can see how these situations molded him into the competitor that he is today. If everything had been easy...if he had been the starter of each game...if he was the fair haired boy....I seriously doubt if he would be playing D-1 today. These set backs and frustrations were the impetus of his competitive spirit and drove him to excel. As I previously mentioned, the 30 to 45 minute drives home after losses or giving up run after run...walk after walk...hit a batter...wild pitches....being yanked out of a game...and so on....did not seem like blessings then...but upon reflection.....they were the best thing that could have happened.

Got to go...Tink needs a ride to work....more later

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Beginning

I am new to blogging. I have read a few but never created one of my own until today. It is a cold January day and it snowed again. I look outside and am chilled and a bit depressed. I want to go out....I want to walk....I want to see flowers and birds....I am feeling a bit needy....

Actually, what I really want is for baseball season to begin. For the past 14 years, baseball has been a large part of  our family life. Beginning with t-ball with my 4 year old son and jettisoning to an 18 year old division 1 player, where did the time go?

One of my earliest memories of this boy is when I gave his older sister a Fisher Price plastic tee ball set with the wide bat. She used it twice & put it down, but when he learned to walk, he picked up the bat and swung at the ball...over and over and over again. He was a one year old boy and when he hit the ball, it sailed across the yard and into the trees. I remember thinking...hmmm...this is interesting. I have video of this feat with my own sister's voice in the background muttering..."this is amazing..." At the time, I thought...maybe....who knew?

Anyway, he seemed to be very happy when he had his bat and ball. When the kids played tee-ball through the YMCA, the games were hysterical. A ball would be hit toward the pitcher's mound, all 9 defensive players would run to the mound and jump on the ball to field it. It was so funny....this type of defensive play went on and on until one of the coaches decided to line them up and call out each child's name to field the ball. This way, everyone got a shot at touching the ball.

Tee ball gave way to coach pitch....player pitch...ten year old league....all star games...elementary school junior and senior varsity games...then high school and travel and legion games. He would play 50 or so games a year and he never lost his passion for the sport.

Coaching and travel expenses mounted and he appreciated all of the support. He attended all kinds of camps and Showcases on the east coast. Showcases are run by the college coaches. They bring a number of college ball playing wannabes and charge them $300+ for two days. The kids would "showcase" their talents and coaches would offer tips to improve their game. The actual point of these showcases was to bring the talent to the coaches so they could assess their strengths and perhaps offer them a position or scholarship on their team. Sadly, 99% of the players would be rejected. Perhaps one or two players would catch a coach's eye as a possibility.

With that said, "Buddy" (my son) would attend all kinds of showcases. We traveled to Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Coaches would watch, observe, comment, and often reject. It could be a humiliating experience for the player. Yet, Buddy persisted. He would be mentally down then decide that he would work harder. Coaches would contact his high school coach with questions about his play, yet nothing serious happened until January of his senior year. Keep in mind, most scholarship athletes are signed in July. So, he was beginning to lose hope, then 2 large division 1 schools expressed interest in him. He was happy...happy...happy....and ready to commit to a school in Delaware when something miraculous happened.....

A very large, well known northeastern university held a showcase at the academy where he is coached during the off-season. At the time, he was coaching elementary school children at his high school and did not even consider going to the showcase. In his mind, he was going to the Delaware of the showcase coaches approached his personal pitching coach and mentioned that he was looking for a left handed pitcher. His coach ( a minor league ball pitcher for the Reds) immediately called Buddy and told him to get to the academy as soon as possible. Buddy did not have a chance to get nervous, be prepared, or eat his usual snack before he met the D-1 coach. When he arrived, he warmed up and threw...and threw...and threw....the coach then stood in the batter's box and told him which pitches to throw...he was amazed and this moment began a process that still puzzles me.We traveled all over the east coast and he was "discovered" in our own backyard (literally 5 minutes from the house).

Got to go....more in my next blog.....