Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack

Ahhhh. The snowpiles have been reduced to the ones we see, filthy and gray, pushed aside in parking lots. The birds are making enough noise in the morning to make it thoroughly hard to fall back asleep if one awakens at 5:30 a.m. to use the commode (and also if one has ADHD and notices every. little. sound). The dogs are darkening the kitchen floor with layers of mud, brought in from each trip out back because where we once had “grass” we now have “dirt.” The kids are beginning to wear shorts to school (despite the temperatures not making it out of the lower 40s). There are no buds on the trees yet, but I did glimpse three crocuses poking defiantly out of the ground at one of my piano student’s houses.

It would appear that spring is – finally – officially springing, which can mean one thing: it’s baseball season.

For… oh… as long as I can remember, I guess, I’ve enjoyed baseball. Or, should I clarify, I enjoy watching and cheering on baseball. (I am terrible at the actual mechanics of baseball, myself, although I did play softball when I was in fifth grade and my dad proudly said I had “the nicest practice swing of anybody on the team.” I couldn’t hit the ball to save my soul, mind you, but my swing was beautiful.)

I grew up in a staunchly Yankees-rooting house, and they became “my” team sometime in high school. Right around the time I graduated from college, the Bronx Bombers acquired some incredible players – Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte – and went on a hot streak, scooping up several World Series titles in quick succession, and it became even more fun to be a fan of the team. (That’s one of the benefits of rooting for the winningest team in all of professional sports; I recommend it. Although this year hasn’t started off quite so grandly. Hm.)

opening day7
Playoffs, 2004, with Ella on board. I’m normally an avoid-messing-with-the-pregnant-belly-at-all-costs-because-ew-gross kind of person, but how often do you get to get to dress up like a baseball when your team is in the playoffs??
Okay, it’s still pretty
ew-gross. Fair enough.

Nick had the misfortune, sports-wise, of growing up in St. Paul, which made it natural for the Twins to become his team. I married him anyway, and have grown to root for the Twins myself (so long as they’re not playing the Yanks). In fact, the only MLB game that either of our girls has attended was a Twins game, back in ’05 when Ella was new.
opening day8
It may have been a Twinkies game, but she’s still in proper Yankees gear. Duh.

My mom and stepdad have had season tickets to the Yankees for quite some time, but making it down at exactly the right time for Ella or Annie to see a game just hasn’t happened. Plus also, there are only two tickets, meaning only one of our girls could attend… and, given that the seats cost about as much as rescuing an endangered dolphin pod, it seems a bit of a waste, considering that our offspring become bored with baseball almost immediately after the first pitch has been thrown.

Enter our minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings (who are, funnily enough, the Twins’ farm team). What it lacks in terms of major league grandiosity it makes up for in just about every other way. The stadium is less than twenty minutes from our house and parking is a breeze. Every seat is a good one and there’s room for the kids (and antsy adults) to run around on the grassy areas beside the field. The food is dandy (for a ballpark) and no one minds if you switch seats mid-game, so long as the seats you move to weren’t already occupied. (Given the lackluster attendance rates, it’s a good bet that they weren’t.)

And, at $8 a seat (when purchased at the box office; they’re cheaper online), Nick and I don’t care if the girls last half an inning or all nine; either way, we’ve gotten our money’s worth.

That the baseball itself is pretty damn good is a lovely bonus.

The Red Wings’ home opener was supposed to be on Saturday but, due to poor weather, was postponed till Sunday. Nick and I asked the girls if they’d rather attend a local children’s theater production of Pinocchio or the ballgame and they voted enthusiastically for the latter. At first, I chided myself for not doing a better job of properly raising little supporters of the arts, but then learned that the reason they’d chosen sports over theater was because Dippin’ Dots were available at the stadium.

And that, my friends, is something I can get behind, because I will do almost anything to get myself some good grub. Look at my little foodies in the making! Amen.

We arrived only minutes before the game’s slated 2:05 start, just in time to catch the Boy Scout color guard and the fireworks that were set off just outside of the stadium. I’ll admit, it was the first time I’d caught fireworks in the middle of the day, and it was kinda neat; good on ya, Red Wings. We were easily able to get ourselves four tickets to the game – third base line so we’d be in the sun (because even though it was nice out, a sharp chill still hung in the air) – and watched the first pitch under 55-degree, cloudless skies.

It’s not the majors, but it was fantastic.
opening day6
See: Really lovely.

Within minutes, ironically, we discovered that our “sunny” upper-deck seats placed us squarely in the area that was overtaken by shadows as the sun moved across the afternoon sky, and suddenly 55 degrees felt quite nippy. Rather than shiver it out in our original seats, we simply moved forward one row… and then another… and another… always inching ourselves into the sun-warmed bleachers.

We were hardly the only ones doing so, either. Rather, it seemed that the entire stadium’s worth of fans was ebbing and flowing, amoeba-like, seeking out the sunny spots like a dog looking for the warmest place to lie down for a nap. Around the fourth inning, I noticed that the fans on first base side had not only moved downward, but inward, in their search of the sun, crammed into one thin sliver of un-shaded glory.

To wit:
opening day2a
If we just move a bit to the left – yep, just one more, keep scootching down – we’ll all fit in here…

Can’t see what I mean? How ’bout if I move in closer?
opening day2bSqueeeeezed in. Such is the benefit of a minor league ballpark: empty seats are free game, baby.

As predicted, the girls lost interest in the actual game as soon as it began, despite my whispered explanations (“See how that guy’s not touching the base? That’s called leading off…”), so we entertained them in the best way we knew how: by getting food. Yes, of course there were Dippin’ Dots — and also hot dogs, sausages, and some really nifty fresh-cut potato chips with dipping sauces.

opening day5
Some families like to take selfies of their faces while at the ball game. I prefer to catch us doing what we do best: eating.

It got exciting for a while – the Red Wings scored in the first inning and then had a three-run homer in the second (the girls’ first home run sighting) – but once the food had been gone through and my explanations began to fall flat, Nick did what fathers have been doing since the dawn of time to entertain their children at sporting events: he bought them silly trinkets and attempted to bribe them.

opening day4
Their first foam fingers! They were quite psyched.
I can’t even see the words “foam fingers” anymore without thinking disturbing thoughts (not like I was really seeing the words “foam fingers” a lot before). Thanks, Miley.

When Annie began poking us in the head with her finger (and, subsequently, Nick threatened to take it away for good) and Ella began muttering about how cold she had become (we finally reached a point where we could no longer move forward, and were swallowed in shadow shortly thereafter), we agreed that it was time to call it a day. Hey, they lasted five entire innings; that’s pretty much a double-header in our house.

Is our minor league park like attending a MLB game? Nope. Not at all. Everything’s pared down, the atmosphere isn’t quite as intense, and the fans are more subdued.

opening day3
Case in point: the crowd cheered the loudest when this sign came up on the field. 
This makes sense to me, though, because tacos are definitely something I support. WOLF WHISTLE, baby!

But that’s okay with me because, after all these years, it turns out that I just love baseball, any baseball. Some day, Ella and Annie will make it to Yankee Stadium (even if it’s not really Yankee Stadium anymore), and they’ll be able to sit through the entire game. With luck, they’ll even enjoy it. For the time being, though, being able to share baseball with my girls in a way that works for all of us is a pretty cool thing. Especially when the water is running and we don’t have to unzip our snowsuits to use the port-a-potties.

And it is the umpteenth reason why moving to Rochester was such a stellar decision those seven years ago.

opening day1
Yet another minor league ballpark perk… Bored? Looking for more sun? Just want to stretch your legs? Then get out of your damn seats and have a sit on the lawn, why don’t you!

If we can just make it through mud season and settle into spring that actually feels like spring, then I’ll really feel like giving Rochester a high five.


Point Taken

Since forever, Nick and I have used a “points” system to call the other out when we’ve unwittingly said or done something simply because we’ve just been together too damn long, and our… peculiarities… have rubbed off on each other. When we’re out with friends and someone refers to workers at the Disney Store as “employees” and Nick corrects them, saying, “Actually, they’re cast members,” I get at least ten points, because my Disney-speak wormed its way into his vocabulary. When I note that Mark Messier must have won more Stanley Cups than Wayne Gretzky because he was with the Rangers when they were the champs in ’94, Nick gets a solid fifty points because his love of hockey has caused me to remember weird hockey stats.

Were you just singing part of Les Mis while you made dinner?
“Shit. I think I was.”
OMG, a hundred points for me. Maybe one-fifty.

“Did you just shake your bag of popcorn to spread out the flavor more evenly?”
Holy crap, did I?
“That puts me in the lead for at least a month.”

Naturally, since marriage is at its best when it’s essentially a competitive sport, we are also keeping points when it comes to the girls. There are some things that Annie and Ella do – ways they behave or phrases they say – that are absolutely because they’re my daughters. Becoming frustrated when someone uses incorrect grammar? Totally my kid. Being physically unable to turn the television off when The Sound of Music is on? That’s my girl! Knowing at least two verses to every Christmas carol? Naturally. WHAT WERE THEY, RAISED BY WOLVES?

And then there are the things that they do that are a direct byproduct of having Nick for their dad. Like last week, when Ella was by herself in the dining room and I heard her cheerfully muttering, “I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch! Here it goes down. Down into my belly!”

How do you know all of that?
“From that thing Daddy showed me*.”
You’re actually quoting Anchor Man???
“Yes! It was really funny!”

(* don’t call CPS. He only showed them the trailer for the first movie. It was super fun to avoid explaining what “quite a handful in the bedroom” means.)

Sometimes, the points are given grudgingly. When Annie, age three, returned from a potty run (while we were out. In public) and loudly proclaimed that she’d just been “dropping a deuce,” Nick earned himself a few points, but also maybe the silent treatment on the way home.

Other times, Nick has had points deducted from the Official Points Bank (which is kept in my head; it’s exceedingly accurate). Years ago, as I was changing a then-18-month-old Annie’s diaper, I removed the offending nappy and she murmured, “Fuggin’ diaper.” Making sure I’d heard her correctly, I (stupidly) asked her to repeat herself. Nope, “Fuggin’ diaper,” plain as day. (Lest you think I’m being chaste, I’m not trying to avoid writing the word “fucking” — Annie actually pronounced it as “fuggin'”.)

Oh wow. Where did you hear that?
“Daddy said it.”

BUS.TED. Fifty points from Gryffindor.

(Nick lost even further points as Annie – probably in response to my shocked reaction – decided that it was fun to yell “FUGGIN!!!” at the top of her lungs, especially when we were out and about. “FUGGIN’ LIBRARY!” “FUGGIN’ GROCERIES!” I quickly learned that if I responded in any way to her outbursts – whether to scold or admonish, distract or quickly zip her the heck outta dodge – she would get a charge out of it and would yell even more loudly and jubilantly. “FUGGIN’ CAR! FUGGIN’ CAR! FUGGIN CAR!!!!!” The only thing that would eventually quiet her down was to ignore her entirely, which meant that for a good three or four months — until she finally realized she wasn’t going to get a rise out of me, so it lost its luster — Annie dropped the F-bomb in every store we entered. FUN TIMES, THOSE. I was ahead in points for at least half a year.)

This isn’t to say that the girls haven’t picked up the occasional unsavory phrase from me. When Ella was frustrated with something a couple of weeks ago, she angrily yelled, “Oh, for God’s sake — JESUS CHRIST!!” Um, yeaaah. Oops. My bad.

Sometimes, they’ll tell me “secrets” just to see what I’ll do, like when they returned from a trip to Brueggers last weekend and Annie bounded up to tell me, “Guess what word Daddy taught us but we’re not allowed to tell you? GRAB-ASS!”

Isn’t that delightful.
“He said Grandpa Bill used to say it to him when he was a kid, so that makes it okay, right?”
Not really, but I’ve got to give him points for style.

And I will fully admit that I love how Ella has memorized comedienne Anjelah Johnson’s bit about Nordstrom and Ross employees’ responses** to the Raider cheerleader calendars. It slays me every time she – correctly, appropriately – drops, “I have three words for you – Fan. Tas. Tic!” into conversation. Okay, Nick. You win this round.

(** not the best recording of this, but worth a look if you don’t know who/what I’m talking about. Hilarious.)

But Nick’s greatest coup may have come when he least expected it. Last weekend, the movie Miracle was on cable, so he began to show it to the girls, starting from wherever the movie was at the time. I jumped in and said no, we had to start at the beginning — how else would they know about the Cold War? About the relationship between the United States and Russians in 1980? How could they miss Eruzione almost not making the team? How would they understand the significance of his saying that he played for The United States of America, whereas previously each player had always said they played for such-and-such college?

If we’re going to show them the movie about one of the greatest sports stories of all time – a HOCKEY story, at that – we must start from the beginning, damn it ! We need a Miracle family movie night! Oh, and totally ten points for me for standing up for the hockey movie.

Aside from watching a bit of A League of Their Own, this was the first sports movie the girls had seen, and while we hoped they’d enjoy it, we weren’t entirely sure. Our apprehensions were eased as they gasped aloud when the coach, Herb Brooks, made the team undergo a grueling practice after a half-assed effort in Norway, shouting “Again! Again!” until the players were vomiting from exhaustion. They shook their heads in bewildered disbelief as the Russians beat the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition game just three days before the start of the Olympics. And they were beside themselves during the Big Game, covering their faces with worry, screaming aloud for every goal, dancing around (literally) as Al Michaels called out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” It was a good night.

Still, it was just a movie, and after going to bed that night, we didn’t talk more about it. The following day, we sat down to start one of Annie’s school projects, where the entire family was supposed to work together to “disguise” a paper turkey by turning it into something else, so it wouldn’t be eaten at Thanksgiving. We could use anything around the house – markers, glitter, dried pasta, feathers, scraps of paper – but we had to work together.

We began the discussion. Do you want to turn it into a Disney character? Maybe Phineas (of Phineas and Ferb)? How about a soccer player? A teacher? An artist?

Nope. Wrong, all of them. Annie had her own idea.

Once she’d decided, we all worked to help her disguise her turkey, cutting, glueing, drawing. In the end, he turned out pretty damn well.

And so, without further ado, I present you Annie’s Family Turkey:
Herb Brooks.

11.13 family turkey web
I am NOT a Turkey

Hi I love hockey. I coached the USA Olympic hockey team in 1980. We won the golden medal. We beat the Russians by one point because we had 4 and they had 3. They were mad because they never, ever lost. It was called the miracle on ice.

In case you thought the design was haphazard, please compare Herb-the-Turkey to Kurt Russell-as-Herb-Brooks from Miracle:
Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 2.21.36 PM

I’d completely forgotten that he’d worn plaid pants (ohhh, 1980, you really were somethin’ else), a tan blazer, a blue shirt, and a tie. Annie sure as heck didn’t.

Please also note Herb Brooks-the-Turkey’s fuzzy hair (again, 1980, you truly were a gift).
11.14 herby turkey

When Annie presented her turkey to the class, not one of her classmates guessed who it was (which, you know… not exactly a shocker…). But she was so dang proud of our creation, she didn’t care one bit.

Neither did her dad, who won approximately 823 points for Annie’s efforts, at least half of which were given because he hadn’t even tried to influence her choice.

So Nick’s a little ahead right now in the points department, which is fine with me. This is the 2nd first-grade family art project we’ve done, which surely means there will be others, leaving me plenty of time to plot my revenge course of action. A Family Snowman disguised as a Caramel Macchiato would be pretty incredible.

Which would be fitting, since both Ella and Annie could identify the Starbucks logo before they turned one. ADVANTAGE, MAMA.

Honesty is apparently not the best policy





Annie’s final soccer game is tomorrow. This is our family’s first foray into the world of soccer, and I’d been a bit ambivalent about being a Soccer Mom, but all in all, it’s been a really good experience.

annie soccer online
Photo brazenly stolen from my sister-in-law’s Facebook page.

Annie has loved everything about this season, from practices filled with being pirates and superheroes and princesses (the coaches came up with really fabulous games to get the girls interested in the drills) to having family come and watch during the games. Plus also, the snacks handed out after each Saturday game don’t hurt.

ech of 52 after annie's first game online
Post-game beer. We start ’em young around here.

Her coaches have been absolutely out of this world, handling squealing (I’d accidentally written “squalling” – which is also accurate) first graders with grace, humor, and endless patience. They were also clearly in tune with the personalities of giggling, distracted, hands-on six year-olds, because a few weeks into the season, we heard one of the coaches offer the following keep-it-real instructions: “Remember our One Rule? No picking up the other players off the ground!”

YES. This. Stop picking each other up. You do not need to profess your love for your teammate by ferrying her across the field. Please put her down.

Annie was similarly frank in her post-game interviews.

“You really think it was a good game?? I think maybe that they scored, like, ten more goals than we did.”
“Why didn’t I take off the jersey? Because I decided not to listen.”
“I like scoring, but I think I’m better at trying to stop the goals. It makes me REALLY REALLY mad when they try to score. Maybe I should work on that.”
“That other girl is SO GOOD. I think she could be in Abby Wambach’s family. I wish she were on my team. And I also kind of wish she’d just stop playing.”
“Whenever they ask for other players to come in, I want to do it every time because I just love playing so much! Except for the days when I’m tired. Or in a bad mood. Then I don’t want to play at all.”

It’s really a shame that this candidness disappears in the world of professional sports. Sure, from time to time, you’ll find a player or a coach who really tells it like it is, but by and large, they seem so scripted when they speak, it’s as though they’ve been rehearsing their soundbites in the locker rooms before the games. (Then again, maybe they have. And it’s also probably preferable to butt-grabbing.)

As I got ready this morning, Nick had the bedroom TV tuned to the hockey network, and I was again reminded of how utterly outrageous sports interviewing is. The interviews on game day are where the level of absurdity is taken to new heights, with the reporters asking the most asinine questions possible – questions that are practically rhetorical – and forcing the players to give the least-informative, most watered-down answers imaginable.

As a pitcher, tell me what went through your mind when that ball went over the wall and he scored that home run.
Sometimes, that happens. You just gotta pitch the game. I made a mistake, and he made me pay for it.

What do you need to do during the second half to turn this game around?
We have to play harder, stop their offense, and up our defense.

Here we are, with you coming this close to being the victors, if only you guys had been able to make that field goal. We really thought you had it! What happened?
We played hard and went at it to the end, and I guess it just went wide. They’re a great team with a great coach, and we nearly had ’em.

You’re up three goals to one. How do you think you can pull out the win in the third period?
We need to just keep at it and stop them from scoring, and I think we’ll have it.

You looked a little sloppy in the final minutes of the game. How did you feel when you missed that three-pointer?
You know, man, I was disappointed, but sometimes you make the shots and sometimes you miss. I just thank the Lord every day for the opportunity to play, and I figure next time that one’s mine.

It looks like they really outplayed you today. Did you expect that going in?
We knew that they were strong, and they’ve played really well on the road. But we’ve got a great group of guys here who give it their all each and every game, so we’re going to move forward and not let this stop us.

Really?? Is this the best you can come up with? Your entire job is to interview people, to extract answers, to give insight, and these are the questions you’re asking? The mid- and post-game interviews are more obtuse than political speeches. They could easily give presidential debates a run for their money.

Just once, I’d love to see the players give some first-grade soccer-style answers. Sure, the television censors would get paid overtime, but it would be worth it for sheer entertainment value.

As a pitcher, tell me what went through your mind when that ball went over the wall and he scored that home run.
I was like, awwww shit. That is not good. Just had to hang it out there over the plate like a douchebag, and he smashed the hell out of it. Between me an’ you, I think he’s been doin’ a little Lance Armstrong, but don’t quote me on that.

What do you need to do during the second half to turn this game around?
Basically, we have to stop sucking. If everyone here would just get their damn heads in the game and out of whatever the hell is going on off the field – I don’t care if you just had a baby or you’re thinking about those Roma gypsy kids or what – maybe we’d stand a chance. We need to PASS and we need to SCORE and we need a tight end whose fingers can actually hold onto the ball. 

Here we are, with you coming this close to being the victors, if only you guys had been able to make that field goal. We really thought you had it! What happened?
What happened? We lost. We missed. He tried to kick a field goal and he failed. What do you mean ‘what happened‘? What do you think happened? Were you watching when the ball didn’t go through the posts? Did you see how we didn’t score? That’s what happened.

You’re up three goals to one. How do you think you can pull out the win in the third period?
Well, it’s really pretty simple. Since the high scorer is the winner in hockey, if we continue to have more goals than they do, we’ll win. Obviously, what we’re doing so far is working, ’cause as you just said, we’re up by two goals. I think we can pull out the win by not letting them score more goals than we do. You writing this down?

You looked a little sloppy in the final minutes of the game. How did you feel when you missed that three-pointer?
How do you think I felt? Betrayed. Bewildered.
No, man. I felt like crap. You’re damn right I was sloppy. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, you know, and I’ve been running on Red Bull and Five Hour Energy all day, and I thought maybe the adrenaline would keep me in it till the end, but I crashed – I mean, like, DOG TIRED, man – and as soon as that ball went into the air, I knew. I am totally taking an Ambien tonight.

It looks like they really outplayed you today. Did you expect that going in?
Hell yes we expected it. They’ve dominated everyone they’ve encountered; I actually had a nightmare about them, a for-real nightmare where they were dressed like zombies and we’d all forgotten our pants and my third-grade gym teacher was there… Anyway, they’re 8-1 and we were 2-6 coming into today. We suck this year. I could really use a beer.

I understand that the players probably have it written in their contracts not to say stuff like this, but man, I wish we could hear it straight. Or, in the absence of that, I wish that the reporters would stop asking questions to which there are no good answers. What are they going to do to win? They’re going to try really hard. How do they feel after a loss? Like crap. THIS IS NOT COMPLICATED.

I guess if I want honesty, I’ll have to rely on Annie’s post-game reflections. So long as she can remember the One Rule and leave everyone on the ground, I’m sure her final game of the season will be a good one.

10.01 evening soccerEvening practices meant rainbow skies.
And plenty of time for gossiping with the other loner moms soccer moms.